Zephyr drone comes down after ‘unexpected termination’ over Arizona desert

After loitering high in the sky for more than two months straight, the US Army’s spindly, high-flying, ultra-endurance drone known as the Zephyr has finally returned to earth — brought down by what the Army called an “unexpected termination of [its] flight.”

The Army’s Assured Positioning, Navigation and Timing/Space (APNT/Space) Cross-Functional Team was cagey in a press release Monday about exactly what happened last week on the 64th day of flight for the 82-foot wide, 165-pound unmanned aircraft. But there are enough questions that any future flight of the Zephyr has now been delayed until 2023.

“On August 18 around 2100 hours PDT, the prototype aircraft’s flight campaign ended when the Zephyr 8 UAS encountered events that led to its unexpected termination over [Yuma Proving Ground],” the release said. “These events are under investigation. No injuries or risk to personnel or other aircraft resulted from this incident. Further information will be released following the investigation.” A follow-up request for additional details was not returned by publication.

Michael Monteleone, director of the cross-functional team, said in the statement that his team was “working hard to gather and analyze important data following the unexpected termination of this flight.”

Though the experiment apparently ended poorly, Monteleone said the Zephyr’s record-setting flight had provided “invaluable data and increased knowledge of the endurance, efficiency, and station keeping abilities of high-altitude UAS platforms.”

“That knowledge will allow us to continue to advance requirements for reliable, modernized stratospheric capabilities to our Soldiers,” he said.

The Airbus-made Zephyr originally took off in mid-June, part of the Army’s research into future high-altitude intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities. Running on batteries and solar power, Monteleone previously said platforms like the Zephyr “have the potential to provide significant military capabilities and enhanced confidence as part of the Army’s diversified multi-layered architecture.”

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