Williams and Airbus join forces on Zephyr drone project

The technology spin-out arm of the Formula One team Williams and Airbus have signed a Memorandum of Understanding to work together to apply F1-inspired technology to the aerospace industry.


The collaboration between the aerospace giant and Williams Advanced Engineering will focus on the ways in which ultra-lightweight materials, battery technologies and electrical cell chemistries can be integrated on Airbus’ Zephyr High Altitude Pseudo-Satellite (HAPS) programme.

Zephyr is a record-breaking, solar-powered, unmanned aerial system (UAS), or drone, with unique communications and surveillance capabilities. As previsouly reported by The Engineer the aircraft, which was originally built and designed by Qinetiq, will fly at more than 65,000 ft, above commercial air traffic, for months at a time. The first production examples are being manufactured at Farnborough for the UK Ministry of Defence.

With four decades of experience at the pinnacle of motor racing, where lightweight materials and structures are crucial to speed and safety, Williams is now developing these technologies and finding innovative solutions to weight saving with its know-how. Its most recent developments have included an innovative take on using recycled carbon fibre to manufacture components that can be 40 per cent lighter than current alternatives.

As sole battery supplier to the FIA Formula E championship since its inception, Williams is also a world-leader in electrification and has been working with a number of high profile vehicle manufacturers, as well as other applications of battery technology.

Craig Wilson, managing director of Williams Advanced Engineering said: “We are delighted to be working with [Airbus] on this project, and hope to share some of our expertise in electrification, battery systems and advanced lightweight materials, as well as learn from their vast experience in aerospace.”

Airbus head of Unmanned Aerial Systems, Jana Rosenmann, said: “Our engineering teams are thrilled to have the opportunity to learn from the Formula 1 world and just as enthusiastic about sharing much of what we have learned in developing solutions to high-altitude, solar-powered flight.