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High-Altitude Military Drone Crashes After More than Two Months of Flight

The Zephyr bested its own flight record more than a month ago.

There’s now officially a new standard for the world’s longest flight by a drone after a more-than-two month voyage came to an abrupt end late last week.

The Zephyr, a solar-powered drone developed by Airbus and undergoing testing by the U.S. military, took off on its latest journey in mid-June and broke its own record for longest drone flight nearly 26 days later.

The drone, which flies at altitudes of more than 60,000 feet using power harvested by solar arrays across its 75-foot wingspan, continued to coast along for another 38 days — setting the new mark at 64 — before, as an Airbus official put it, “an issue … ended the flight campaign.”

Reports did not detail what the specific issue might have been, but they did provide some context about the end of the flight: publicly available flight data showed the craft descending as quickly as 4,500 feet per minute before crashing in Arizona.

The mission, part of an airborne sensor experiment conducted by the Army, provided analysts with more than 1,500 hours of data to pore over. The Zephyr can provide high-def views from the stratosphere of an area of more than 230 square miles; officials have said it could be used for surveillance, as well as possibly to disrupt radar systems.

Although the latest mission set a new record for the longest drone flight, it fell just hours short of breaking the record for longest flight overall. That record – for now – still belongs to Robert Timm and John Cook, who flew their Cessna 172 for more than 64 days and 22 hours in 1959.

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