BAE's PHASA-35 drone completes first stratospheric flight, at 66,000 feet

BAE Systems has announced that its novel high-altitude pseudo-satellite, solar-powered PHASA-35 drone, has completed its first stratospheric test flight.
Christopher McFadden
Image of the BAE Systems PHASA-35 in flight.

BAE Systems 

BAE System's engineers have completed a 24-hour test flight of its PHASA-35 High Altitude Pseudo-Satellite (HAPS) Uncrewed Aerial System (UAS). Cruising at over 66,000 feet (20.1 km), the UAS reached the stratosphere before returning and landing safely in New Mexico, USA. This flight, BAE Systems explained, will allow its engineers to assess the experimental solar-electric drone's performance at such extreme altitudes.

Solar-powered high-altitude drone

"This is a fantastic achievement for everyone involved and shows the commitment of BAE Systems to invest in new technologies and markets. PHASA-35’s first stratospheric flight demonstrates that this vehicle is on track to become the go-to system for long endurance, high altitude, and communications applications," said Dave Corfeild, CEO of BAE subsidiary Prismatic Limited.

"The successful trials are a testament to the hard work of the fantastic team we have built over the last couple of years within Prismatic and across our partner companies, including Piran, Amprius, Microlink, Honeywell, PMW Dynamics, and the Met Office. I look forward to the next steps as we develop this unique system," he added.

The test flight is a significant achievement for the PHASA-35 project, which started development in 2018. The aircraft, created by Prismatic Limited, is designed to operate above weather conditions and other air traffic. It has the potential to serve various purposes, including long-lasting intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance, and security operations.      

This technology can be used to transmit communication networks like 4G and 5G. It can also be employed in various applications, such as disaster response and border control, instead of conventional airborne and satellite systems. The PHASA-35 program is a part of FalconWorks™, a new center for advanced and agile research and development in BAE Systems' Air sector. It aims to provide a variety of cutting-edge combat air capabilities to the UK and its allies.

The PHASA-35 boasts a wingspan of 115 feet (35 meters) and can carry a payload weighing up to 33 pounds (15 kg). It utilizes cutting-edge technologies such as advanced composites, energy management, solar electric cells, and photo-voltaic arrays to generate energy during the day. This energy is then stored in rechargeable cells to sustain flight throughout the night.  

This trial is the first in a series to confirm system performance, support development activities, and validate test points. The ultimate goal is to make PHASA-35 available worldwide in defense and commercial markets.

Alternative to satellites

"PHASA-35 is breaking new ground - opening up the stratosphere to new possibilities. The team, which combines BAE Systems’ know-how from across the globe with innovative solar and power management technologies, demonstrated tremendous commitment and ambition as they tackled the challenges associated with novel technologies and approaches. This partnership approach is key to our ability to enhance our defense expertise with new thinking and technologies," said Cliff Robson, Group Managing Director for BAE Systems Air Sector.

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