Airbus Defence & Space is gearing up for a series of payload tests operating from the Western Australian town of Wyndham with its revolutionary Zephyr unmanned aircraft.
Airbus heavily promoted the type at the Avalon air show, with a large model housed in a special pavilion. “Enduring like an satellite, focused like an aircraft,” was written in large letters on the floor.
Though the aircraft is capable of operating for weeks in the stratosphere, regulatory hang-ups mean the examples Airbus is deploying to Australia had to be flown in aboard a freighter aircraft.
The work in Australia, says head of Zephyr sales NIgel Chandler, will not be about demonstrating the aircraft’s ability to stay aloft for days on end, but instead will look at different payloads. The examples based in Wyndham will start flying in the coming weeks.
Airbus sees both military and commercial applications for the type, which has a 25m wingspan and derives its power from solar panels during the day and batteries during the night.
Applications for the aircraft include intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance, as well as communications. Chandler said Zephyr is well suited to providing communications over areas that have been hit by a natural disaster, or ones that temporarily need additional coverage, such as regions hosting major events but where mobile phone coverage is spotty.
ISR missions could include military missions, or monitoring for forest fires and shipping activity.
As for the market, Chandler sees broad opportunities in the Asia-Pacific region, though he declined to discuss specifics.