The plant will build the Zephyr S and is the first production HAPS system in the world.
The 75kg solar powered Zephyr has a wingspan of 25 m and flies at an average altitude of 70,000 feet / 21 km to monitor the ground with a high resolution camera. Zephyr holds several world records, including the longest flight duration without refuelling at 14 days.
The production plant in Farnborough, UK, is named after the late Chris Kelleher, the inventor of Zephyr. “Today represents a significant milestone in the Zephyr programme," said Dirk Hoke, Chief Executive Officer of Defence and Space. "The facility is home to the world’s leading High-Altitude Pseudo Satellite and will be a showcase location, linking to our operational flight bases around the world. The Zephyr S aircraft is demonstrably years ahead of any other comparable system and I am beyond proud of the Airbus team for their unrivalled success. Today we have created a new future for stratospheric flight.”
The production version is currently on its maiden flight in Arizona, USA a few days ago. R&D versions of Zephyr have logged almost 1,000 solid hours of flying time and is currently testing a flight time of 30 days..
Airbus will fly Zephyr S from a new operating site at the Wyndham airfield in Western Australia to provide surveillance around the world. The site, operational from September 2018, was chosen as the first launch and recovery site for the Zephyr UAV due mainly to its largely unrestricted airspace and reliable weather.
Last week Facebook cancelled its Aquila HAPS programme, citing Zephyr as a viable alternative. Williams Advnaced Engineering is also working with Airbus on the battery and power management systems for future versions of the Zephyr.