back to article US Army drone crashes hours ahead of breaking flight duration record

An unmanned, solar-powered drone was hours from breaking the world record for the longest-duration flight before it suddenly crashed. Armed with solar panels, weighing less than 75 kilograms and with a wingspan of 25 meters, the Zephyr 8 model, developed by Airbus, is designed to fly for long periods of time with no crew. A …

  1. vtcodger Silver badge

    Proof Of Concept

    I'd say that 64 days constitutes adequate proof of concept. Good for them.

  2. Tom 7

    50 miles an hour straight down?

    Either not in one piece or someone got their horizon pi/2 out.

    1. Anonymous Coward Silver badge

      Re: 50 miles an hour straight down?

      That was while it was at ~45000ft - the air is very thin up there so that's a believable fall rate to me. Commercial airlines descend at ~2000ft/min routinely and I've done more than that in a light aircraft (straight down).

    2. steelpillow Silver badge

      Re: 50 miles an hour straight down?

      Zephyr only cruises around 30-40 kt, so 50 kt vertical is probably close to its terminal velocity in a nose-dive. I'm guessing it turned too tight at too low an airspeed, stalled and nosedived into the ground. A sadly common occurrence.

  3. Bluester

    Had the on-board Windows server reached its maximum up time?

    1. MyffyW Silver badge

      @Bluester, you just know it wouldn't have made it past 30 days and a patch Tuesday :-)

  4. G40

    Worth a link …

    Amazing story:

  5. Gene Cash Silver badge


    "Missed it by that much" is always just the worst. I'm sure the crew is just absolutely depressed.

    Still, it was a hell of a run. I'd buy 'em a round or two.

    1. logicalextreme

      Re: Frustrating

      When I read the headline, I parsed it as it did break the record, then proceeded to crash a few hours prior to doing so. Which made me a little terrified for what this drone was truly capable of, and what exactly they were testing.

  6. Marc 13

    "Moments before it crashed into the desert it had just performed an S-shape maneuver"

    The mix-up occurred at the H-I-T part of the maneuver.

    1. bombastic bob Silver badge

      sky writing?

      1. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge


        Didn't get to the "O.S"

    2. bpfh

      The HIT part of the manoeuvre

      It HIT the ground didn’t it?

  7. hammarbtyp

    Just enough time for the onboard A.I to achieve sentience and then commit suicide when it considered its long term career options

  8. hammarbtyp

    In hindsight reserving only 7 bits for the day part of the time accumulated field was probably an optimization too far

    1. heyrick Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      Wouldn't that have made it to 127 days before crashing?

      (but, yeah, I came to post pretty much the same thing)

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        It counts days and nights

        1. Bill Gray

          Or it was a signed seven-bit value.

          1. ravenviz Silver badge

            So it was time travelling as well!

            Isn't that cheating?

            1. heyrick Silver badge

              Sadly, I've seen signed variables used for quantities that can only possibly count up from zero...

          2. bpfh

            I would have hoped that Airbus would have learned that lesson from Arianespace


  9. xeroks

    They may have 1500 hours of data...

    ... but I suspect the final few minutes will be the ones with the most attention.

    It's a pretty impressive feat.

    My mind was boggled, though, by those details about the record they were chasing.

  10. Marty McFly Silver badge
    Black Helicopters

    It's not 1984. Really. Trust us.

    Let me make sure I have the facts in the article straight.

    - US Army flying a drone, not the manufacturer, Airbus

    - Capable of capturing images & videos for surveillance purposes

    - Over US soil

    Prepping for a little Posse Comitatus, are we???

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: It's not 1984. Really. Trust us.

      Problem with testing it in realistic conditions over a battlefield is where do you find a suitable enemy?

    2. Xalran

      Re: It's not 1984. Really. Trust us.

      It went as far as Belize at one point, before going back to making /signs in the sky/ over a specific area that was designated as it's test flight area.

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: It's not 1984. Really. Trust us.

        Was Belize Area 1? Was it travelling across all the Areas and passed over another 49 before crashing at the next one?

        1. Xalran

          Re: It's not 1984. Really. Trust us.

          Belize is a country in Central America...

          it went all the way there by flying over the Mexico Gulf and going around the Yucatan peninsula...

          1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

            Re: It's not 1984. Really. Trust us.

            I know. I was quite impressed not only that it had flown so far, but that they were prepared fly it outside of US airspace on a test flight.

    3. bpfh

      Re: It's not 1984. Really. Trust us.

      The conspiracy theories have entered the chat… Must. Not. Feed. The. Troll….. Aaaahhhh too late…

      It’s not like the US DoD hasn’t been doing this ever since they could make things fly…

      And as for secret reconnaissance accidents, there have been been a couple of Blackbird accidents flying over the US…

      So as for the US military using military equipment over US soil, what are you expecting? How else are you going to train? How do you test? How do you experiment?

      Troll fed.

  11. elsergiovolador Silver badge

    6 bits

    If it lasted 64 days, does it mean the flight counter was 6 bits and it crashed upon overflowing?

    Probably the management didn't consider it will fly for longer than a month and asked engineers to save 1 or 2 bits. Maybe they could order a cheaper CPLD with fewer cells.

  12. Hurn

    Radar and signal jammers


    I doubt the solar panels / onboard batteries can sate the power hungry needs of active jamming for long.

  13. martinusher Silver badge

    High performance sailplanes are like that

    This drone is really a high performance sailplane with electric propulsion and solar charging. Staying up for a long time isn't the problem, its just a matter of finding minimal lift. Albatrosses, for example, rarely land, they just float on air currents using the action of wind on the sea's waves to generate enough lift to fly for as long as they want to (they have to land to feed). The only issue is that those controlling the plane need to watch out for changes in the atmosphere. The 'S' maneuver, for example, might have been to try to get away from unexpected turbulence, the sort of thing that could literally tear the wings off a plane like this.

    It would have been prudent to carry some kind of parachute so that if there was a mishap the carcass could be recovered to figure out what when wrong. As it is they're going to be stuck with a pile of debris and a lot of questions.

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: High performance sailplanes are like that

      So you're suggesting fitting Laser target designators to Albatrosses?

      I like it !

  14. Lordrobot

    Hype Aside, the 1959 Cessna 172 record still stands.

    Fueling from a moving Truck... The US Army wanted to cut these two chaps out of the record book but FATE would have none of that.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Hype Aside, the 1959 Cessna 172 record still stands.

      It is a salutary lesson about the actual limitations of automation, drones, AI etc, that all the resources, and countless years of work of Airbus etc, didn't beat two guys with a Cessna, 60 years ago.

      My pick is that they were using a Google IOT cloud service, and they incorrectly assumed that even GG wouldn't kill it in 64 days.

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: Hype Aside, the 1959 Cessna 172 record still stands.

        I think we lost the ability to file FAA paperwork for low level flying over a truck while grabbing jerry cans from a guy standing on the roof.

      2. arachnoid2

        Re: Hype Aside, the 1959 Cessna 172 record still stands.

        Maybe they inadvertantly enabling Bing mapping, hence the sudden drive to ground level.

  15. nautica Silver badge

    Adams' dictum...

    "There is an art...or rather, a knack to flying. The knack lies in learning how to throw yourself at the ground and miss. … Clearly, it is this second part, the missing, which presents the difficulties.”

    ― Douglas Adams, Life, the Universe and Everything

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Adams' dictum...

      I like that.

      I'm going to have that written down on laminated paper in my pocket...

      if i ever decide to try it from a multi story building or suitably high bridge.

      (subject to things getting any worse in the UK)

      (A parachute may be optional)

  16. Champ


    Record set in 2 guys in a Cessna.... refuelling from *a moving truck* !?!?!?


    Glad someone posted a link to *that* story...

    1. imanidiot Silver badge

      Re: Wait....what?

      It was absolutely mad and the reason the FAA then stopped recognizing duration records. Those crazy guys had shown what could be done and everyone could see what that could lead to. Similar to glider duration records (set by Geza Vass and Guy Davis in 1961 with a flight time of 71 hours and 5 minutes. The single seat flight-endurance was set by Charles Atger in 1952 with a flight time of 56 hours and 15 minutes), with the right conditions those could theoretically go for months, but resupply is a problem and pilot fatigue a very real risk.

      1. imanidiot Silver badge

        Re: Wait....what?

        Minor self correction. Where it says FAA, it should be FAI (Fédération Aéronautique Internationale)

    2. Potemkine! Silver badge

      Re: Wait....what?

      Another achievement from those two guys: they needed 64 days to find the drone and shoot it down, so their record still stands.

  17. Potemkine! Silver badge

    SI Police

    WTF are feet and miles?

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: SI Police

      They're units used in aviation

      1. Mike 16

        Re: Miles and feet

        Not sure about feet, but the miles used in aviation are (were?) the Nautical sort. That would at least make some sense for float planes...

  18. imanidiot Silver badge

    The NASA Helios crash comes to mind, I wouldn't be surprised if it turns out to be a similar problem. Windshear or turbulence can do funky things to an airplane

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Do you have windshear, or indeed wind, at 60,000 ft ?

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Depends on what you ate for lunch.

      2. imanidiot Silver badge

        There can be, yes. And the problem occurred at around 45000 feet. Still very high up but not quite as high. It's the sort of level the tops of CB clouds can reach for instance.

  19. TJ1

    That's FSD for you!

    Who decided to pay the $10,000 extra for the Tesla full-self-driving (FSD) option AND allowed an over-the-air, in-the-air, upgrade!?

  20. Mr Smeghead

    Ghostly Intervention?

    My first thought was to ask if the authorities have checked on the current locations of Robert Timm and John Cook, but it looks like Timm left this world in 1976 and Cook followed in 2012, so the odds of either of them being involved in the drone's downing to protect their record are very slim, unless one believes in things like ghostly intervention.

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