UK stratospheric 5G trial will link to Islander aircraft

A group of UK companies has been awarded funding to trial stratospheric High-Altitude Platform (HAP) 5G using a Britten-Norman Islander aircraft.


Led by Cambridge’s Stratospheric Platforms Limited (SPL), the consortium is aiming to deliver 5G connectivity from several miles above the Earth via an unmanned, liquid hydrogen-powered aircraft with a 56m wingspan. The lightweight structure combined with the power source should enable the HAP to remain in the stratosphere for up to a week at a time.

Beginning in July 2024, SPL’s system will be tested using a turbine-powered BN2T-4S Islander variant. The trial will be conducted under Britten-Norman’s Civil Aviation Authority test conditions.

“We are delighted to be working with Britten-Norman on this programme,” said Kevin Bean, chief technical officer at SPL. “The Islander is a great workhorse for this kind of engineering because it can be rapidly and extensively modified to accommodate our equipment.

“The role-based type of mission which can readily be executed by the Islander, combined with the stability of the platform, is ideal for a programme where telecommunication trials require predictable performance.”

Britten-Norman will operate the aircraft from its Solent Airport aircraft maintenance (MRO) facility, with the mission taking place over the North Sea. The 5G phased array will be linked via a backhaul link to the Adastral Tower in Suffolk, from which the telecommunications and mission equipment will operate.

“This is a great opportunity to demonstrate the full capabilities of both Britten-Norman as an accomplished trials organisation and the Turbine Islander as a highly capable trials aircraft,” said Garnet Ridgway, flight test engineer at Britten-Norman.

“The project requires a test platform that can be easily modified; the BN2T-4S Islander has a combination of payload capacity, endurance, climb performance, twin engine reliability, robustness and electrical power generation that makes it unbeatable for this mission.”