Barbara Selby Headquarters, Washington, DC (Phone: 202/358-1983


December 22, 1994

Don Haley Dryden Flight Research Center, Edwards, CA (Phone: 805/258-3449) RELEASE: 94-218 PERSEUS MISHAP TRACED TO FAULTY GYRO Preliminary findings by a team of investigators at NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center, Edwards, CA, indicate that a faulty vertical gyro was responsible for the mishap Nov. 22 which resulted in severe damage to a Perseus remotely-piloted research aircraft. The Perseus vehicle was returning from a mission under normal remote control after being flown to an altitude of 36,000 ft. At about 29,000 ft., the aircraft experienced several oscillations and then a sharp descending left roll. A moment later aerodynamic forces exceeded the design limits of the vehicle and the wings broke off. One minute later, a parachute was deployed and the fuselage was recovered on the ground. The gyro that failed provided pitch (up and down) information to the Perseus autopilot during normal flight. The oscillations experienced moments before the mishap were due to inaccurate pitch attitude signals from the vertical gyro to the autopilot that commanded the vehicle to operate at speeds outside the vehicle's design limits. During the investigative process, the flight was duplicated in a simulator which indicated that the failed vertical gyro caused the oscillations that led to the mishap. Instrumentation shows that the vehicle, which has a maneuvering speed limit of 61 knots (70 mph), was descending, after loss of control, at a rate of 80 knots (92 mph) at the time the wings failed.

The investigative team will recommend that the Perseus project develop better methods to detect real-time sensor failures in flight. -more-2The Perseus vehicle involved in the mishap is one of two being developed by NASA to collect data from the upper atmosphere. When operational, the remotely piloted aircraft may fly as high as 82,000 ft. on scientific missions that will bridge the gap between measurements from NASA's piloted research aircraft and space-based instruments. Perseus vehicles are powered by a four-cylinder engine designed to operate at the extreme edge of the upper atmosphere. They have a wing span of 17.9 meters (59 ft.) and a length of 8.2 meters (27 ft.) When operational, they will be flown remotely from a ground station, or by an onboard computer over a predetermined flight path. The mishap occurred on the 16th development flight of that vehicle. A second identical Perseus aircraft under development at Dryden has flown five times. First flight of the Perseus vehicle was at Dryden in Dec. 1993. -endNASA press releases and other information are available automatically by sending an Internet electronic mail message to In the body of the message (not the subject line) users should type the words "subscribe pressrelease" (no quotes). The system will reply with a confirmation via E-mail of each subscription. A second automatic message will include additional information on the service. Questions should be directed to (202) 358-4043.