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


November 25, 1996

Fred Brown Dryden Flight Research Center, Edwards, CA (Phone: 805/258-2663) RELEASE: 96-247 SOLAR-POWERED PATHFINDER RETURNS TO SKIES The record-setting Pathfinder solar-powered research aircraft has resumed flight testing at NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center, Edwards, CA. This was the first flight for Pathfinder since Sept. 11, 1995, when it set an altitude record of more than 50,500 feet on a flight from Dryden which lasted nearly 12 hours. The uncrewed ultralight craft, developed and operated by AeroVironment, Inc., of Simi Valley, CA, flew for approximately two hours earlier last week during a lowaltitude checkout flight over the northern portion of Rogers Dry Lake at Edwards Air Force Base. The remotely-piloted craft was operated by two pilots in both stationary and mobile ground-control stations during the flight. Pathfinder flew in a racetrack pattern in the Unmanned Aerial Vehicle area at altitudes ranging from about 300 to 1,000 feet while engineers checked out various aircraft systems. A wealth of data was obtained on the operation of the solar-cell arrays (which cover more than 72 percent of the Pathfinder's upper wing surface), structural integrity and aircraft control systems. John Del Frate, Dryden's Project Manager for Pathfinder, said NASA is pleased with the progress of the program, despite a setback a year ago when the craft was extensively damaged in a ground accident inside a hangar. "It had been damaged following a static display last October," he said. "NASA is quite pleased that AeroVironment has been able to repair it and get it back in the air in just

a little over a year." In addition to repairing the damage, AeroVironment made several structural and systems improvements, including installation of stronger, lighter composite rib structures and higher-efficiency solar cells on the wing sections that had been damaged. Pathfinder's current flights at Dryden are intended to check out systems prior to moving flight operations to the Navy's Pacific Missile Range Facility (PMRF) in Hawaii early next year for further tests. One or more flights at both low and high altitudes may be flown from Dryden within the next couple of months to check out Pathfinder's systems in a much colder environment. Low sun angle and limited hours of sunlight during the winter will limit Pathfinder's altitude capability to about 20,000 feet. That limitation is one of the reasons that the project will be transferred to the PMRF on the island of Kauai, which lies at a lower latitude. Kauai's latitude and more favorable prevailing northerly winds will allow more opportunity for high-altitude solar-powered flying during a five-month flight test program. Pathfinder is one of several remotely-piloted aircraft being evaluated under NASA's Environmental Research Aircraft and Sensor Technology (ERAST) program. The joint NASAindustry alliance is seeking to develop technologies required to operate slow-flying unpiloted aircraft at altitudes up to 100,000 feet on environmental-sampling missions lasting up to a week or longer. Originally designed for a classified military program in the early 1980's, Pathfinder went through several modifications before being adopted into the ERAST program in 1993. With a span of 99 feet, Pathfinder is basically a flying wing. Only two small pods extend below the wing's center section to carry a variety of scientific sensors and support the craft's landing gear. The solar arrays on the wing can provide as much as 7,200 watts of power at high noon on a summer day to power the craft's six electric motors and other electronic systems. A backup battery system can provide power for up to two hours to fly the craft after the sun is down.

Built primarily of lightweight composite structure, plastic foam and a thin plastic covering, Pathfinder weighs about 500 lbs. -endNOTE TO EDITORS: Photos are available at Dryden to support this release. Photos also are available on the Internet at: