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On a secret mission – Airbus super drone falls from the sky after 64 days

Their wings have a wingspan of 25 meters and they use sunlight as fuel, which is converted into electricity for electric motors.

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On a secret mission – Airbus super drone falls from the sky after 64 days

Their wings have a wingspan of 25 meters and they use sunlight as fuel, which is converted into electricity for electric motors. The unmanned Airbus drone “Zephyr” is special in many ways.

It flies in the thin layer of air in the stratosphere at an altitude of about 20 kilometers, well above normal air traffic. From there, a "Zephyr" model has now crashed after 64 days in the air over the Arizona desert, according to tracking websites.

Encrypted and without even using the word crash, Airbus reports on request: "Zephyr experienced circumstances that ended its current flight." No one was injured. The industry service Simple Flying claims to have learned that contact with the drone was lost on August 19.

The armaments division of Airbus is silent about the cause. One reason could be that the drone flew for the US armed forces and its exact payload was not made public even when it departed from a US base in Arizona. In addition, there is no information about the originally planned mission duration.

"It may have been tested what the maximum operating time is at the moment," says an insider who wishes to remain anonymous. In general, Airbus speaks of various possibilities for which the drone can be used. For example, for reconnaissance and surveillance purposes with photos, videos or listening to radio traffic for the military or as a flying communication station and Internet node for civilian customers.

“We see ourselves in a leading position worldwide. The model is considerably cheaper and easier to launch than a small satellite," says an Airbus spokesman.

However, Airbus should also be hurt by the fact that the crash was probably only a few hours short of one of the oldest records in aviation. It remains true that the longest non-stop flight in history lasted 64 days, 22 hours and 19 minutes. It was erected in 1959.

It was not an unmanned flight like the Zephyr drone, but actually a manned flight by two pilots in a small Cessna plane. The unique mission 60 years ago was intended as an advertisement for the hotel-casino Hacienda in Las Vegas.

The small aircraft was supplied with fuel daily at low altitude by tank trucks, which were pumped upwards. The pilots also received their food and fresh clothing via support vehicles. The so-called hacienda record is still a topic of conversation among aviation enthusiasts – especially since the Airbus Zephyr model threatened to break it.

Even if the duration of the longest non-stop flight to date was not surpassed, the Airbus drone has now achieved numerous other records, such as that of the longest flight of an unmanned aerial model.

Airbus also refers to the Zephyr model as a pseudo-satellite (HAPS – High Altitude Pseudo-Satellite) because it flies so extremely high. It reaches its operating altitude in the stratosphere within eight hours. The manned US spy plane U-2 and the unmanned drone RQ-4 Global Hawk also operate there, but they can transport much higher payloads.

The now-caught version of the Zephyr 8 weighs just 75 kilos and has a lightweight carbon fiber composite construction. However, this is a risk, especially when flying in the lower air layers and in strong winds. It is said that there have already been two crashes in the approximately ten-year Zephyr history.

According to an Airbus spokesman, the payload of the model is up to twelve kilograms. The military, in particular, are interested in it. Customers have so far included British and American military forces. There were also attempts with the Japanese communications group NTT Docomo.

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