Don Nolan-Proxmire Headquarters, Washington, DC (Phone: 202/358-1983


September 13, 1995

Don Haley Dryden Flight Research Center, Edwards, CA (Phone: 805/258-3456) RELEASE: 95-152 NEW SOLAR-POWERED ALTITUDE RECORD SET IN NASA TEST FLIGHT A NASA unpiloted, remotely-controlled aircraft, using the Sun's energy to fly to stratospheric altitudes, achieved a milestone flight demonstration on September 11, that could lead to better understanding of the upper atmosphere and the effect of greenhouse gases on Earth's environment. The aircraft is called Pathfinder and is one of several unpiloted prototype research vehicles under study by NASA. The flight at NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center, Edwards, CA, was the first in a series of high altitude tests of the solar-powered aircraft, developed by AeroVironment Inc., Monrovia, CA. During the nearly 12-hour mission, Pathfinder -- controlled from a ground station -- reached an altitude of 50,500 feet, a new record for a solar-powered aircraft. The all-wing aircraft, weighing less than 600 pounds, is being evaluated by a NASA-industry alliance in a program to develop technologies necessary to operate unpiloted aircraft at altitudes of up to 100,000 feet on environmental sampling missions lasting up to a week or more. The evaluation program is called ERAST -- Environmental Research Aircraft and Sensor Technology -- and is part of NASA's Mission to Planet Earth effort to study and protect the environment. Among the technologies being looked at by the NASA-industry ERAST alliance, in addition to solar power, are lightweight materials, avionics, sensor technology, aerodynamics, and other forms of propulsion suitable for extreme altitudes. "The Pathfinder flight demonstrated the viability of solar technology for high altitude unpiloted aircraft and cleared a path towards the environmental research aircraft

of the twenty-first century," said Jennifer Baer-Reidhart, ERAST Project Manager. "The altitude achievement was a major milestone for the program and also demonstrated the capability of the vehicle to carry scientific payloads and other experiments into the stratosphere." -more-2During the flight, which began at 9:29 a.m. PDT on Rogers Dry Lakebed at Edwards, Pathfinder was carrying four small payloads: a device designed by NASA's Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, CA, to collect aerosol-size data; a solar cell calibration computer from NASA's Lewis Research Center, Cleveland, OH; a Navy communications relay unit; and a strain gauge package to collect data on Pathfinder's composite structure. Maximum altitude was reached at about 3:30 p.m. PDT. Altitude was limited because of available sunlight for solar cell operations. The vehicle landed back on Rogers Dry Lakebed at 8:25 p.m. PDT. Data from the payloads and flight recording system will be analyzed in preparation for a second high-altitude mission in the near future. Previous holder of the solar aircraft record of 14,000 feet was the Solar Challenger, also built by AeroVironment Inc. The company also developed the human-powered Gossamer Condor and Gossamer Albatross lightweight aircraft. -endRESOURCE PHOTOGRAPHS: Digital photos are available at the Dryden World Wide Web home page at URL: in the "Dryden Research Aircraft Photo Archive" (EC95-43261-1 and EC95-43261-2) in the "Dryden News and Feature Photos" file. NASA press releases and other information are available automatically by sending an Internet electronic mail message

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