Solar-powered plane could stay aloft for a year, defence giant says

Woomera 5720

South Australia is emerging as a location of choice for cutting-edge aviation projects, with a local company reaching a deal to build electric planes just days after another milestone in the state’s outback.

Key points:

  • BAE Systems has successfully tested a solar-powered aircraft in SA’s outback
  • It is capable of staying aloft for up to a year, the company said
  • An Adelaide company will become the first to make electric aeroplanes in Australia

SA-based Eyre to There Aviation today said it would become the country’s first manufacturer of electric planes, after signing an agreement with European aircraft maker Pipistrel.

It comes two days after British defence giant BAE Systems revealed a solar-powered, unmanned military aircraft had completed its first flight at Woomera, in the state’s outback.

The Persistent High Altitude Solar Aircraft (PHASA-35) “has the potential to stay airborne for a year” without touching down on land, the company said.

BAE Systems engineering director Ian Muldowney said it took less than two years for the aircraft to go from design to its maiden flight above the Royal Australian Air Force’s Woomera test range earlier this month.

“This is an outstanding early result that demonstrates the pace that can be achieved when we bring the best of British capability together,” Mr Muldowney said.

“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.”


The PHASA-35 aircraft can avoid weather by going into the stratosphere. (Supplied: Prismatic)

The aircraft, which has a 35-metre wingspan, was built in collaboration with the company’s Slovenian subsidiary Prismatic, BAE Systems said.

It said the aircraft was a “persistent and affordable alternative to satellites” and could be used for surveillance and communications, including the 5G network.

Further flight trials are scheduled for later this year.

Electric planes to reduce reliance on fossil fuels

Meanwhile, Eyre to There Aviation today said its deal with Pipistrel would allow it to build up to 100 Alpha Electro aircraft every year in Adelaide, providing 20 jobs.


The Pipistrel Alpha Electro electric training aeroplane. (Supplied: Pipistrel)

The two-seat plane will be tailored for use in flight schools, with a short take-off distance and a 1,000-feet-per-minute climb capability.

Managing director Barrie Rogers said electric aircraft had a range of benefits, including avoiding fossil fuels.

“We’re using battery technology rather than fuel technology, less maintenance and from a training point of view, obviously, a lot less operating cost,” he said.

Mr Rogers said he hoped the deal would encourage other countries to use electric aircraft for training.

“More importantly, I think it’s about Australia getting recognised on the global scale [with] technology such as this,” he said.