WASHINGTON — Testing of Airbus’ Zephyr drone unexpectedly concluded after completing a record 64 days aloft following an incident at Yuma Proving Ground in Arizona, according to U.S. Army Futures Command.
Further flight demonstrations of the solar-powered, uncrewed aircraft have been postponed until 2023.
“Our team is working hard to gather and analyze important data following the unexpected termination of this flight,” Michael Monteleone, the director of the command’s Assured Positioning, Navigation and Timing/Space Cross-Functional Team, said in a statement.
The team launched the aircraft June 15 and it remained flying until Aug. 18 when it “encountered events that led to its unexpected termination,” according to the command. The Zephyr drone shattered its own longevity record for time spent aloft as an uncrewed aircraft system in the process.
The events are under investigation, and further information will be released once the review is complete. No injuries or risk to personnel or other aircraft resulted from the incident.
“Despite this event, the Army and its partners have gleaned invaluable data and increased knowledge on the endurance, efficiency, and station keeping abilities of high-altitude UAS platforms,” Monteleone said. “That knowledge will allow us to continue to advance requirements for reliable, modernized stratospheric capabilities to our soldiers.”
During its time airborne, the Zephyr more than doubled the previous unmanned aerial system endurance record, just less than 26 days, and beat all known UAS endurance records.
The Zephyr has a wingspan of just over 82 feet but weighs less than 166 pounds. Testing sought to assess the aircraft’s durability and energy storage capacity.
Postponement of future testing is needed given the amount of data generated during the flight and the time required to analyze it, as well as the need to investigate the event, Army Futures Command said.
The command previously said it would launch a second Zephyr flight this summer that would travel over the Pacific Ocean in order to study its ability to carry a payload designed by the Army over multiple combatant commands.
James Darcy, a spokesperson for Airbus, did not immediately return a request for comment.
Catherine Buchaniec is a reporter at C4ISRNET, where she covers artificial intelligence, cyber warfare and uncrewed technologies.