Zéphyr: Electric aircraft that replaces satellites

An experimental solar-electric spy plane, the Airbus Zéphyr S, took off from the Yuma Proving Ground military base in Arizona on June 15, according to The Drive’s military expert site. And he could still fly.

During its first flight in July 2018, the Zéphyr S Federation set a new 26-day endurance world record approved by Aeronautics International.

It remains to be confirmed whether the current flight will be longer lasting and set a new record.

Several versions of Jeffrey have been tested by the U.S. Army and Navy.

The latest, Jeffrey S, flights reached an altitude of 76,100 feet, another world record for electric drones.

This is why Airbus speaks of a hops (High-Altitude Pseudo-Satellite).

Only the famous American U-2 and SR-71 spy planes have reached such heights (see below).

This “pseudo-satellite” has this feature: it has a remarkably low weight for a 25-meter (82-foot) fan, weighing only 65 to 75 kilograms (143 to 165 pounds), depending on the on-board electronics.

Its mylar and carbon fiber wings are completely covered by solar panels which allows it to recharge 24kg of lithium-sulfur batteries, about one-third of its total weight.

Its fuselage, a thin tubular tube, ends with a bulbs nose so that it has avionics and data acquisition and transmission system.

The first solar-powered drone to reach the stratosphere, Jeffrey SK is designed to carry out a wide range of affordable military and civilian missions, usually by satellite: terrestrial and marine surveillance, reconnaissance, navigation, communications, and spacecraft. .

Images can relay and signal intelligence to ground commanders at a fraction of the cost of an orbiting military satellite by Jeffy.

The drone uses ultramineralized optical / infrared video sensors to capture high-resolution images in real time, day or night.

It has the ability to collect data over an area of ​​1000 km2.

Like a geostationary satellite, but one thousand times lower at altitude (36,000 km vs. 26 km), Zéphyr can fly over a certain point on the ground for an extended period of time. Flying close to the ground, Jeffrey’s camera captures images at a resolution of 18 centimeters, whereas the resolution of a satellite is about 30 centimeters.

Zephyrs also provide a clear advantage over spy satellites in circular orbits that exceed their target area twice a day.

They hover over their targets, providing continuous cover.

These semi-satellites can even replace damaged or disabled satellites. Russia and China are actively developing their anti-satellite capabilities. The orbital surveillance system of the Americans and their allies is under increasing threat.

Zephyrs civilian missions

In the civilian sector, Airbus ads claim that its high-altitude electric drone will monitor the planet’s environmental evolution, revolutionizing forest fire and oil spill management.

For border security, Zéphyr S will be able to identify and track people who cross them illegally and send their details to the authorities in real time.

Jeffrey’s ability to complement or replace satellite systems will be invaluable in post-disaster situations, especially when traditional cellular or Internet networks are ineffective. They can also act as “mobile towers” ​​for cellphones and 5G, providing an alternative to standard towers in areas with poor infrastructure or uneven terrain.

Fly almost indefinitely

Airbus engineers are aiming for a 100-day non-stop flight for Zéphyr and more. They are even considering making landing and take-off optional. Incredibly, Jeffrey’s solar cells can charge the aircraft’s batteries enough to keep them on top indefinitely. DARPA, the Pentagon’s advanced research agency, has already developed the Vulture and SolarEagle programs, which aimed to keep an aircraft in flight for five years.

Zephyr trials can be launched to give users great operational flexibility when the weather is favorable and “stable” in the stratosphere.

Jeffer’s limitations

Jeffers have a much better level of flight perseverance than other drones and other high-altitude spy planes, while adapting more than conventional spy satellites.

The main limitation of Zephyr is its low payload capacity. The Zephyr S is 30% lighter than its predecessor, the Zephyr 7, while carrying 50% more battery, making room for an operational payload of 5 kg (11 lb). This is very little compared to the 2000 pounds of Northrop Grumman’s RQ-4 Global Hawk Spy drone, which is the standard for a military drone.

The Zephyr is much slower and less powerful than the high-speed jet spy plane, but it fills it with its endurance. Zéphyr pulverizes the US Air Force’s Global Hawk, which is only able to fly 35 hours without fuel.

Many technical challenges await Zephyr. Threats to the cosmic ray’s electronics. Its cruising altitude is above adverse weather, but it is prone to strong winds and bad weather during ascent and descent.

Imposes restrictions on navigation by solar energy. Available brightness varies according to latitude and date. The tropics provide the most energy: the farther away the device is from the equator, the less energy is available in winter. However, this does not prevent him from conducting his mission in the winter. It flew in a winter climate for 11 days to show it could perform on long winter nights. When the sun sets, it must descend 45,000 feet to store energy in the dense wind.

A Franco-British invention

Acquired by French Airbus in 2013, Jeffer was created by British QinetiQ in the early 2000s. In April 2014, the British Ministry of Defense awarded a contract to Airbus for the production and operation of the Jeffrey S. The aircraft was built on Airbus 8 Farnborough, UK factory. Some tests conducted from Windham Airfield in Australia ended poorly. In March 2019, a Zéphyr S crashed due to extreme weather. The second crashed on a flight in September 2020.

A modified and improved ZEPHYR

Jeffrey T.

Photo courtesy, Airbus Defense and Space

Jeffrey T.

Airbus is currently making the twin-tail Jeffrey T, which is designed to carry large payloads. It is a larger aircraft with wingspan of 33 meters and heavier, weighing 140 kg. Its payload capacity is four times that of 20 kg Zéphyr S.

The hand has been launched into space

Zéphyr S's take-off 7 for a test flight to Arizona

Photo courtesy

Zéphyr S’s take-off 7 for a test flight to Arizona

Zephyr operators need to be very careful when installing and launching fragile aircraft. On the ground, its wings are bent under their own weight. A handful of men are enough to carry it over their heads while running. Jeffy’s first method of deployment was a helium balloon that carried him to an altitude of 9,000 meters (30,000 feet) before he was released.

Famous U-2 and SR-71 spy planes

  • The U-2 is one of the few aircraft to serve the American Air Force for more than 50 years. The USAF still has 31 operational U-2s. They are going to get an upgrade that could keep them flying for another 30 years. The U-2s took part in the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq and supported several NATO multinational operations. During the Cold War, U-2s carried out spy missions over the Soviet Union, China, Vietnam, and Cuba. In 1960, Gary Powers was shot down by a surface-to-air missile over the Soviet Union in a CIA U-2. During the 1962 Missile Crisis, a U-2 Cuban operated by Major Rudolf Anderson was fired upon. The subsonic U-2 has a range of 11,280 km and can reach 70,000 feet (21,000 m).


Photo Archives, AFP


  • The SR-71 Blackbird, designed to replace the U-2, can fly at an altitude of 25,000 meters (82,000 feet) at a speed of 3,500 km / h (the world’s fastest aircraft). He retired from the U.S. Air Force in 1998. Lockheed Martin is currently building a successor, the SR-72, a hypersonic drone intended for recovery and combat missions. It will be made partly by a 3D printer. The first flight is scheduled for 2025. The SR-72 will fly at 6 or 7408 km / h.

SR-71 Blackbird

Photo courtesy, US Air Force

SR-71 Blackbird

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