Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Top End Site to Launch and Recover Solar-Powered Drone

Western Australia will be the world’s first operational site for the launch and recovery of a class of unmanned aircraft known as High Altitude Pseudo Satellites (HAPS) after Airbus selected Wyndham airfield as the first flight base for its Zephyr S solar-powered unmanned aircraft.

The Zephyr S is the production version of the Zephyr 7 aircraft, which holds the world record for 14 days continuous flight. It weighs less than 75 kg and flies by charging its batteries from sunlight during the day and maintaining its high altitude at night, all under control from the ground. The Zephyr operates at more than 65,000 feet, above weather systems, for weeks at a time.

The Zephyr is uniquely capable of providing persistent surveillance over land or sea, and can host communications links for civil or military purposes. Zephyrs can also be used for humanitarian missions, precision farming guidance, environmental and security monitoring, and to provide internet coverage to regions with poor or zero connectivity.

Flights will begin at Wyndham in the second half of this year. “Largely unrestricted airspace and reliable weather make Wyndham an ideal location for these operations,” said Tony Fraser, Managing Director of Airbus Australia Pacific.