Skip to Content
MIT Technology Review

An Airbus drone has set the record for the longest continuous flight within Earth’s atmosphere

Category:

It was able to stay in the air for 25 days straight.

The news: Today, Airbus announced the successful landing of the first production model of its spy drone, the Zephyr S HAPS, after a record setting stint in the skies. It was the craft’s first time touching down since it took off from Arizona on July 11.

How it works: The 165-pound craft’s longevity is possible because it relies only on solar power to fly. Its preferred cruising altitude is much higher than your average passenger jet—at 70,000 feet, it flies well above weather and standard air traffic—which allows the drone’s solar panels charge both day and night.

Endurance test: The vehicle beat the previous record for longest flight within Earth’s atmosphere without refueling of 14 days, which was set by an earlier Zephyr prototype. The company is planning additional flights for later this year, and claims it will eventually be able to stay aloft for 100 days at a time.

Why it matters: Solar powered flight has long been a goal of aviation innovators. The drone’s increasing flight durations are helping prove the technology’s worth to potential buyers like Britain’s defense ministry, which has already ordered a pair of them.