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US Army conducts high-altitude experiments with Zephyr UAS

July 25, 2022  - By

A division of the U.S. Army Futures Command is conducting stratospheric experimentation using the Zephyr ultra-long endurance stratospheric unmanned aerial system (UAS). The tests are being carried out at Yuma Proving Ground in Arizona by he Assured Positioning, Navigation and Timing/Space (APNT/Space) Cross-Functional Team (CFT), which is based in Huntsville, Alabama.

The first flight of 2022, launched June 15, demonstrated Zephyr’s energy storage capacity, battery longevity, solar panel efficiency and station-keeping abilities that will further the army’s goal to implement ultra-long endurance stratospheric UAS capabilities.

During the flight, the Zephyr accomplished a number of firsts, including

  • first flight into international airspace
  • first flight over water
  • longest continuous flight utilizing satellite communication controls
  • the farthest demonstration from its launch point while carrying a commercial, off-the-shelf payload
  • breaking the world record for longest duration UAS flight (26 days) set by the same aircraft in 2018. This flight has completed 36 days and is still flying over Yuma Proving Ground.

“Ultra-long endurance unmanned platforms have the potential to provide significant military capabilities and enhanced confidence as part of the Army’s diversified multi-layered architecture,” said Michael Monteleone, director of the APNT/Space CFT. “We have seen incredible progress in high-altitude platforms in recent years. This experimentation allows us to build on that knowledge by demonstrating multiple payload types, fully exploring the military utility of stratospheric operations, and modernizing areas of deep sensing, long-range targeting and resilient communications.”

Zephyr is prepared for a flight test. (Photo: Airbus)

Zephyr is prepared for a flight test. (Photo: Airbus)

Upcoming Second Launch. A second Zephyr flight will launch in the coming weeks and travel over the Pacific Ocean. The flight will demonstrate a prototype payload, developed by the Army Futures Command, over multiple combatant commands, and continue to inform high-altitude requirements.

The Airbus-developed Zephyr is the first high-altitude UAS of its kind, providing a persistent and adaptable longevity in the stratosphere. The experiments are performed with cooperation of the Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) Task Force, U.S. Army Program Executive Office – Aviation, and multiple combatant commands under an Other Transaction Authority (OTA), with T2S Solutions LLC as the integrator.

The APNT/Space CFT is responsible for accelerating the delivery of advanced APNT, tactical space and navigation warfare capabilities to the soldier. Working with a core team of experts, the CFT informs technology and system requirements through continuous experimentation and prototyping, technology integration and soldier feedback. Through this process, the APNT/Space CFT supports the Army Futures Command in delivering next-generation weapons, vehicles and equipment at an accelerated rate, giving Army forces the ability to deploy, fight and win decisively against any adversary, anytime and anywhere.

About the Author: Tracy Cozzens

Senior Editor Tracy Cozzens joined GPS World magazine in 2006. She also is editor of GPS World’s newsletters and the sister website Geospatial Solutions. She has worked in government, for non-profits, and in corporate communications, editing a variety of publications for audiences ranging from federal government contractors to teachers.