Airbus opens flight base in Australia for Zephyr UAS operations

By Patrick C. Miller | December 05, 2018

The opening of what Airbus Defense and Space calls the world’s first high-altitude, pseudo-satellite flight base for the company’s solar-powered Zephyr was announced this week in Australia.

Located in Western Australia near the town of Wyndham, the base will be the first operational launch site for the Zephyr S, an electric unmanned aircraft system (UAS) that flies in the stratosphere. Airbus said the event marked the beginning of Zephyr flight campaigns from the site for different customers and represents a milestone in the aircraft’s operational capability.

“This is the culmination of almost a year of hard work by Airbus and my government to bring this exciting and innovative technology to our state,” said Mark McGowan, premier of Western Australia. “The Zephyr aircraft provides new capabilities to commercial and military customers and will bring an economic boost to the East Kimberley region.”

According to Airbus, the Zephyr will bring new see, sense and connect capabilities to both commercial and military customers, providing the potential to revolutionize disaster management—including monitoring wildfires and oil spills. Airbus said the Zephyer “provides persistent surveillance, tracing the world’s changing environmental landscape and will be able to provide communications to the most unconnected parts of the world.”

“We are proud to see Australia become part of the Zephyr operational network,” said Jana Rosenmann, head of Airbus UAS. "The site is our gateway to the stratosphere and will be the main flight base for Zephyr going forward.”

The Zephyr was designed for a wide scope of applications, ranging from maritime surveillance and services to border patrol missions, communications, forest fire detection and monitoring, and navigation. The aircraft operates in the stratosphere at an average altitude of 70,000 feet, has a wingspan of 82 feet and weighs about 165 pounds.

With the ability to fly above air traffic and weather phenomena such as clouds and jet streams, the Zephyr can persistently cover local or regional footprints for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions. It can remain focused on a specific area—sometimes hundreds of miles wide—while providing “satellite-like” communications for long periods of time without interruption.