Latest high-altitude UAV flight highlights importance of safe airspace integration

Flight trials of PHASA-35 high-altitude solar UAV in Southern Australia is the latest unmanned system to operate in the stratosphere – offering affordable communications and surveillance services. The development highlights the task ahead for airspace planners: to not only manage air traffic at this level, but also to safely control descent and ascent operations of slow-moving vehicles in the same airspace as manned aircraft.

PHASA-35 is the result of a collaboration between BAE Systems and Prismatic formed two years ago. The 35-meter wingspan solar-powered aircraft is designed for a wide range of applications including forest fire detection and maritime surveillance. The aircraft’s flight marks the first fully integrated flight test of the PHASA-35 system. The aircraft has the same wingspan of an Airbus A-320 meters and weighs only 150 kilograms. The United Kingdom’s Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL) and Australia’s Defence Science and Technology Group (DSTG) have helped sponsor the flight trials which took place in Southern Australia.

The engineers behind the solar powered aircraft claim that the aircraft will be capable of maintaining flight for up to a year in the upper atmosphere. According to a press release by start-up accelerator iHLS, the system will provide military and civilian customers capabilities that are currently unavailable from existing space and air platforms. The system has the potential to assist with disaster relief, border protection, and delivery of communication networks such as 5G.

“This is an outstanding early result that demonstrates the pace that can be achieved when we bring the best of British capability together,” said the Engineering Director at BAE Systems, Ian Muldowney. “To go from design to flight in less than two years shows that we can rise to the challenge the UK Government has set industry to deliver a future combat air system within the next decade.”

Additional flight trials are scheduled for this year, with the possibility that the PHASA-35 will begin initial operations with customers within a year of completing the flight trials.

(Image: Prismatic)

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