The Zephyr isn’t a commercial airplane meant to transport people over long distances. Instead, it is a High Altitude Platform Station (HAPS) that can fly in the stratosphere at around 70,000 feet (21 km), almost twice that of regular jet-engine powered aircraft.
The aircraft has 82 feet (25 m) wingspan but weighs under 165 pounds (75 kg). According to its website, the Zephyr is payload agnostic and can be used to capture imagery or radar or automatic identification systems for military, institutional or commercial uses. At its highest altitude, a single Zephyr can provide the coverage equivalent of 250 cell towers and could be used to improve connectivity in the remotest parts of the world.
Since the aircraft is powered by solar energy alone, it can stay airborne for long durations of time. Previously, the Airbus team has flown the Zephyr continuously for over two weeks on multiple occasions. This time around, the Zephyr was airborne for 64 days when it crashed.
How did Airbus Zephyr crash?
According to Simple Flying, Airbus has been testing iterations of its Zephyr planes in Arizona for many years. The latest iteration of the aircraft, called Zephyr 8, was now close to breaking the record for the longest recorded flight, which is held by a Cessna 172 Skyhawk flight that took place 63 years ago. Called Hacienda flight, the Cessna had remained airborne for 64 days and 22 hours.