Above: HAPSMobile’s Sunglider HALE-UAV takes flight. Credit: AeroVironment.

By: Peter De Baets – Sr. Director, AeroVironment

Improvements in power electronics and composites have taken the latest generation of aircraft to new heights with the development of high-altitude platform system (HAPS). Solar powered, HAPS has the ability to operate in the stratosphere for long periods of time to provide continuous telecommunication services and are a compelling solution for rapid, flexible, global stratospheric infrastructure build-out. There is significant commercial and government interest in turning these vehicles into an important, new asset to be used in applications such as forecasting weather, monitoring natural resources and a variety of others.

The Japan-based telecommunications operator SoftBank Corp. and AeroVironment, Inc., a global leader in unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) headquartered in California, established HAPSMobile Inc. to create their own HAPS: Sunglider. HAPS vehicles, such as Sunglider, are more flexible than current satellite systems as they can be re-tasked to fly to a new way point and the sensor suite can be upgraded in sync with rapid payload upgrade cycles. Sunglider’s multi-mission capabilities include remote sensing, connectivity and over-the-horizon observations, making use of its extensive payload capability. Our goal at AeroVironment is to bring affordable assistance.

Before Sunglider, AeroVironment developed the high-altitude unmanned aerial vehicles Pathfinder Plus and Helios in partnership with NASA during the Environmental Research Aircraft and Sensor Technology (ERAST) program. The program explored the utility of high-altitude vehicles and marked the beginning of AeroVironment’s longstanding relationship with Hawaii when flight demonstrations were completed over Kauai.

AeroVironment also flew a commercial telecommunication payload for Japan’s National Institute of Information and Communications Technology (NICT) from Kauai. Local flight and test operations like these can tap into talent pools from nearby schools and community colleges and can help diversify Hawaiʻi‘s economy by growing engineering and technical workforce clusters in support of the aircraft’s mission preparation.

Hawaiʻi has a favorable climate, good ocean port and airport infrastructure, and a strong community pull for these types of “high tech, green” programs. Its strategic geographic position in the Pacific also makes it the ideal location for flight operations of extreme endurance platforms, such as Sunglider, as they can be deployed over long distances with only a handful of global launch sites needed.