A team of UK companies led by Stratospheric Platforms Limited (SPL) has won a significant contract trialling advanced airborne 5G connectivity from a Britten-Norman Islander. Aircraft manufacturer Britten-Norman will be providing key design and trials support for the project, with Marshall Futureworx providing important cooling systems technology.

SPL is pioneering the concept of using a High-Altitude Platform (HAP) with airborne antenna to provide widescale coverage of high performance 5G from the stratosphere.

The goal of the project is to deliver an unmanned, liquid hydrogen-powered aircraft, designed with a 56-metre wingspan that will, due to its lightweight structure and significant power source, enable a flight endurance of over a week.

The first phase of the contract will see SPLs 5G airborne phased array integrated to a Britten-Norman Islander, with flight trials due to begin in July 2024. The turbine-powered BN2T-4S Islander variant has been selected for the programme due to its performance and payload capacity and the simplicity with which it can be modified to accommodate the equipment. The trial will be conducted under Britten-Norman’s Civil Aviation Authority test conditions.

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

Garnet Ridgway, flight test engineer at Britten-Norman, remarked: “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. Working closely with our partners, the project includes deliverables from our design, manufacture, MRO, continued airworthiness, flight test and flight operations teams.

“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.

“We are very pleased to have been selected by Stratospheric Platforms to assist in pioneering this innovation.”