Wyndham airfield in Western Australia has been chosen as the first base site for Airbus’ solar-powered Zephyr unmanned aircraft.
Airbus' selection of the WA site makes Wyndham the world’s first operational site for the launch and recovery of the class of unmanned aircraft known as high altitude pseudo-satellites (HAPS). The aircraft is extremely lightweight and makes virtually zero noise as it leaves and returns to its base.
The Zephyr S, which will fly at Wyndham, is the production version of the earlier Zephyr 7 aircraft, which set the world record for 14 days continuous flight in 2010. It weighs less than 75 kilograms and flies by charging its batteries from sunlight during the day and maintaining its high altitude at night, all under control from the ground.
Airbus will begin flights of the Zephyr at Wyndham in the second half of this year. Wyndham will serve as the launch and recovery site for Zephyr, which typically flies for days or weeks at a time without landing and operates at very high altitudes, far above even commercial airliners.
Approximately 20 Airbus employees will be based in the local area during operations.
Tony Fraser, managing director of Airbus Australia Pacific, said the West Australian site offers an ideal airspace for its operations.
"We are extremely grateful to the government of Western Australia and the Shire of Wyndham and East Kimberly for their support of the Zephyr program," Fraser said.
"The combination of that support, largely unrestricted airspace and reliable weather make Wyndham an ideal location for these operations."
The Zephyr operates at more than 65,000 feet, above weather systems, for weeks at a time. The first production aircraft are being manufactured at Farnborough, UK. Airbus said it is capable of providing persistent surveillance over land or sea, and hosting communications links for civil or military purposes.
As well as for military operations, Zephyrs can be used for humanitarian missions, precision farming guidance, environmental and security monitoring, and to provide internet coverage to regions of poor or zero connectivity.