Airbus’ Zephyr drone appears to have just broken a giant flight record

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Online flight tracking data shows that operators of the extremely persistent, high-flying Airbus Zephyr S unmanned aerial vehicle, which is currently conducting a very long deployment, flew routes today over the Kofa National Wildlife Refuge in Arizona, which identified the number 26, the letters USA and the outline of the contiguous United States. Another part of its trajectory took the drone over the Yuma Test Range and the resulting design could depict the Liberty Bell or the symbol for the mathematical constant pi.

The number 26 seems to reflect the fact that the solar-powered drone has now been flying for 26 days, which if confirmed would set a new world record for longest unmanned flight. The same type of drone set the previous record of nearly 25 days in the air. This current flight is part of a US Army experiment, as you can read more about in The War Zone‘s first coverage here.

Online flight tracking data had previously shown the Zephyr S taking off from a runway at the Army’s Yuma Proving Ground (YPG) on June 15. The drone, which uses the call sign Zulu 82, appears to have been in the air ever since. In addition to its time in the air over Arizona, its flight activities over the past month have notably flown as far as Belize and back over the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea.

According to online flight tracking data, Zulu 82 operators have used other opportunities over the past week to “write” short messages using the drone’s trajectory. On July 7, the UAV’s route consisted of the letters R and C with a heart between them, the exact meaning of which is currently unknown. The day before there had been a waving hand. “4. July” was published on this day, America’s Independence Day.

What else the Zephyr S has done and will do in the course of this likely record flight is not entirely clear. “This experiment is designed to test the energy storage capacity, battery life, solar panel efficiency and station keeping capability of the UAV,” said a spokesman for the Army’s Assured Positioning, Navigation and Timing/Space (APNT/Space) Cross-Functional Team (CFT)- Office, part of Army Futures Command, previously communicated The War Zone, adding that the main focus is on using the UAV as a sensor platform. As we noted in our first story on this drone’s flight activity, the involvement of the PNT/Space CFT could also indicate its potential ability to support future alternative navigation networks as well as act as an airborne communications and data exchange relay node.

More details on this flight’s accomplishments will likely be announced after it finally returns to the ground.

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