Volume: 01, Issue: 07
The Helios Prototype.
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Other Articles in This Issue:
Opportunity Waits While Spirit Hurtles Forward
NASA Helps Libraries Bring Space Research Down to Earth
Unique Birthday Celebration for Space Station Resident
 

Helios Prototype Solar Aircraft Lost in Flight Mishap

The remotely operated Helios Prototype aircraft was destroyed when it crashed into the Pacific Ocean June 26. No outside property damage or injuries occurred as a result of the mishap.

Helios, a proof-of-concept solar-electric flying wing, was designed to operate at extremely high altitudes for long duration. It crashed during a checkout flight from the U.S. Navy Pacific Missile Range Facility (PMRF) on Kauai, Hawaii. The aircraft tumbled into the ocean, within the confines of the PMRF test range located west of the facility.

NASA, supported by AeroVironment, Inc., of Monrovia, California, (the plane's builder and operator) and the U.S. Navy, has selected a mishap investigation board to determine to determine the exact cause of the crash. The board consists of members from NASA centers and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA):
Dr. Thomas E. Noll, chairman, Langley Research Center, Hampton, Va.
Dr. John M. Brown, NOAA Forecast Systems Laboratory, Boulder, Colo.
Stephen D. Ishmael, Dryden Flight Research Center, Edwards, Calif.
Dr. Marla E. Perez-Davis, Glenn Research Center, Cleveland
Geary C. Tiffany, Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif.

The propeller-driven aircraft had been flying under the guidance of ground-based mission controllers for AeroVironment. Helios had taken off from PMRF at about 5 a.m. EDT on a functional checkout flight and had been aloft for about 29 minutes. The accident occurred during a shakedown mission in preparation for a long-endurance flight planned for next month.

Current to power Helios' electric motors and other systems during the day was generated by high-efficiency solar cells spread across the upper surface of its 247-foot wing. At night Helios was powered by an experimental fuel cell-based electrical system.

The Helios Prototype was designed to fly at altitudes of up to 100,000 feet on single-day atmospheric science and imaging missions, as well as perform multi-day telecommunications relay missions at altitudes from 50,000 to 65,000 feet. The Helios Prototype set a world altitude record for winged aircraft, 96,863 feet, during a flight in August 2001.

The Helios Prototype is one of several remotely piloted aircraft whose technological development has been sponsored and funded by NASA under the Environmental Research Aircraft and Sensor Technology program. NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center, Edwards, California, manages the program.

For more information, visit http://www.nasa.gov.

    
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