Aviation safety investigations & reports

In-flight break-up involving Airbus Zephyr unmanned aerial vehicle, near Wyndham Airport, Western Australia, on 28 September 2019

Investigation number:
Status: Completed
Investigation completed
Phase: Final report: Dissemination Read more information on this investigation phase

Final Report

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[Download  PDF: 1.27MB]

What happened

On 28 September 2019, an Airbus Zephyr 8 (Zephyr) unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) was launched from Wyndham Airport, Western Australia. The UAV was being operated by Airbus and the purpose of the flight was to conduct beyond visual line of site, high-altitude aerial work.

While climbing through 8,000 ft above mean sea level, the UAV experienced a series of uncommanded turns. The UAV self-recovered from the first two uncommanded turns however, the third upset resulted in the aircraft entering an uncontrolled spiral descent. Despite attempts to return to controlled flight, the UAV sustained an in-flight break-up.

What the ATSB found

The investigation found that the UAV entered an area of unstable atmospheric conditions that were beyond the aircraft’s ability to remain in controlled flight. Once the UAV departed controlled flight, it exceeded its structural limitations, resulting in an in-flight break‑up.

Airbus operated the UAV within the Civil Aviation Safety Authority’s authorisation and their own established procedures. As a result, the operation of the Zephyr aircraft was conducted with minimal risk to the public and environment.

What has been done as a result

Airbus conducted an investigation of this occurrence, which resulted in several safety recommendations being directed to the design and operational departments of the Zephyr program. Implementation of these recommendations will likely contribute to continued safe development of the Zephyr UAV.

Safety message

The number of UAVs and remotely piloted aircraft (RPA) in Australia, and worldwide, is increasing rapidly. Through reporting and investigation of UAV and RPA accidents and incidents, the ATSB is able to monitor trends and identify areas for safety improvement. This information is used to enhance the safety of all aircraft, and the public in general, enabling this sector of the aviation industry to continue to grow and develop.

Download final report
[Download  PDF: 1.27MB]

The investigation

General details
Date: 28 September 2019   Investigation status: Completed  
Time: 2321 WST   Investigation level: Short - click for an explanation of investigation levels  
Location   (show map): Near Wyndham Airport   Investigation phase: Final report: Dissemination  
State: Western Australia   Occurrence type: In-flight break-up  
Release date: 28 September 2020   Occurrence category: Accident  
Report status: Final   Highest injury level: None  

Aircraft details

Aircraft details
Aircraft manufacturer Airbus  
Aircraft model Zephyr 8 UAV  
Aircraft registration Call sign: Unmanned Zephyr  
Serial number Z8B-03  
Operator Airbus  
Type of operation Aerial Work  
Sector Remotely piloted aircraft  
Damage to aircraft Destroyed  
Departure point Wyndham, Western Australia  
Destination Wyndham, Western Australia  
Last update 30 November 2020