In a trial co-sponsored between Defence Science and Technology Group (DSTG) and UK Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL), BAE Systems has successfully demonstrated the maiden flight of an experimental solar-powered unmanned aircraft at the Woomera Test Range (WTR).
The 35-metre wingspan PHASA-35 (Persistent High-Altitude Solar Aircraft) is designed to operate as a pseudo-satellite in the stratosphere, above the weather and conventional air traffic, performing many of the functions of a satellite while still being able to return to Earth.
It is powered by the Sun during the day and by batteries overnight. Long life batteries and efficient solar technology could allow the aircraft to stay aloft for up to a year.
Ian Muldowney, Engineering Director for BAE Systems said, “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.”
BAE Systems said PHASA-35 “When connected to other technologies and assets, it will provide both military and commercial customers with capabilities that are not currently available from existing air and space platforms”, going on to say it “also has the potential to be used in the delivery of communications networks including 5G, as well as providing other services, such as disaster relief and border protection.”
In terms of its contribution to a Future Combat Air System, PHASA-35 could provide a persistent platform to support a Joint Data Network, communications and navigation connectivity at the fraction of the cost of satellites.
BAE Systems continues to invest in applied autonomous capabilities having recently acquired Riptide Autonomous Systems, helping to position them as a leader in developing unmanned underwater systems. And in January, announced it had reached definitive agreements for the proposed acquisitions of Collins Aerospace’s military Global Positioning System business and Raytheon’s Airborne Tactical Radios business in the US. The PHASA-35 was built by UK firm Prismatic Ltd, which BAE Systems is now acquiring.
The trial was the first fully integrated flight test of the PHASA-35 system, delivering rapid proof of capability from design to flight in just 20 months. Further flight trials of the PHASA-35 are scheduled for later this year, with the prospect that the aircraft could enter initial operations within 12 months of completion of the flight trials program.