A solar-powered pilotless drone has reportedly flown for 26 days non-stop, breaking the longest flight of an uncrewed aircraft. Although the makers of the drone are unusually shy about this feat, its long and winding journey was captured by online flight tracking data
An AirBus Zephyr S spent 26 continuous days airborne on July 11, as shown by aircraft tracking platform FlightRadar24.
After embarking on a voyage from Arizona to Belize, the drone returned to the US to spend the rest of its flight over the Kofa National Wildlife Refuge in Arizona. While cruising around here, it managed to find the time to trace out the number “26” and the letters “USA” in its flight path.
If confirmed, this lengthy journey would be record-breaking. The previous record for the longest uncrewed flight is 25 days 23 hours 57 minutes, set by the Zephyr S over Arizona between 11 July and 5 August 2018, according to the Guinness Book of World Records.
Airbus told IFLScience that it “cannot comment on this flight.”
However, a spokesperson from the US Army previously told the Drive the latest flight tests by the Zephyr S are “intended to test the UAV's energy storage capacity, battery longevity, solar panel efficiency, and station-keeping abilities."
The Zephyr is a super-light drone with a wingspan of 25 meters (82 feet) and weighs less than 75 kilograms (165 pounds), according to Airbus. It’s run purely on solar-electric power, using secondary batteries charged in daylight to power overnight flights.
Its recent voyage took place just a short hop from the US Army's Yuma Proving Ground in Arizona. It was flying at an altitude of around 20,634 meters (67,700 feet), significantly higher than commercial planes, which typically cruise between 10,058 to 12,801 meters (33,000 and 42,000 feet).
The uncrewed aircraft has a variety of potential functions, but Airbus suggests one of its primary purposes is snapping high-res imagery and video capture for intelligence gathering – whether that's for the military, governmental, or private clients. It also has the potential to provide internet communications to unconnected parts of the world.