PHASA-35, a 35m wingspan solar-electric aircraft, has successfully completed its maiden flight. The aircraft has been built and flown in less than two years as part of a collaboration between BAE Systems and Prismatic Ltd, which the Company agreed to acquire last year. The aircraft’s manufacturers claim the landmark flight will plug the gap between aircraft and satellite technology.

PHASA-35 is designed to operate unmanned in the atmosphere, above the weather and conventional air traffic. It offers a persistent and affordable alternative to satellites combined with the flexibility of an aircraft, which could be used for a range of valuable applications including forest fire detection and maritime surveillance.

The successful flight trials, which were sponsored by the UK’s Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL) and Australian Defence Science and Technology Group (DSTG), took place at the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) Woomera Test Range in South Australia.

The trials marked the first fully integrated flight test of the PHASA-35 system, delivering rapid proof of capability from design to flight in just 20 months. The test flight marked a culmination of efforts from a collaborative team of British experts from Prismatic in Hampshire – where two full-sized concept aircraft were built last year – working alongside BAE Systems engineers in Lancashire, where the aircraft underwent further integration testing prior to flight trials.

Sun powered by day, battery powered by night

PHASA-35 is a High Altitude Long Endurance (HALE) vehicle, powered by the Sun during the day and by batteries overnight. The long-life battery and solar technology could allow the aircraft to maintain flight for up to a year operating in the stratosphere, the upper regions of the Earth’s atmosphere.

PHASA-35 is designed to provide a persistent, stable platform for monitoring, surveillance, communications and security applications. When connected to other technologies and assets, it will provide military and commercial customers with capabilities which are currently unavailable from existing air and space platforms. The Unmanned Air Vehicle also has the potential to be used in the delivery of communications networks including 5G, as well as provide other services, such as disaster relief and border protection, at a fraction of the cost of satellites.

Aircraft demonstrates “best of British” capability

Ian Muldowney, Engineering Director for BAE Systems, said: “This is an outstanding early result that demonstrates the pace that can be achieved when we bring the best of British capability together. 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.”

Further flight trials are scheduled for later this year, with the possibility that the aircraft could enter initial operations with customers within 12 months of the flight trials programme completion.

BAE Systems’ acquisition of Prismatic forms part of the Company’s strategy to develop breakthrough technologies, making bolt-on acquisitions where they complement existing capabilities and provide an opportunity to accelerate technology development in key areas.