Dwayne Brown Headquarters, Washington, DC (Phone: 202/358-1726


June 12, 1997

Fred Brown Dryden Flight Research Center, Edwards, CA (Phone: 805/258-3449) Eric Dunn Pacific Missile Range Facility Kekeha, Kauai, Hawaii (Phone: 808/335-4560) RELEASE: 97-132 PATHFINDER SETS NEW WORLD RECORD The Pathfinder, a remotely piloted aircraft, set a new world record this week for high-altitude flight for solar-powered aircraft at the Pacific Missile Range Facility, Kauai, Hawaii. The study of solar-powered, remotely piloted aircraft could lead to revolutionary technologies to conduct low-cost, highaltitude atmospheric and remote sensing studies. During its flight on Monday, June 9, the aircraft reached an altitude of 67,350 feet, breaking the previous record of 50,500 feet it set on Sept. 11, 1995, at NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center, Edwards, CA. Pathfinder is part of NASA's Environmental Research Aircraft and Sensor Technology (ERAST) Program, and was designed, manufactured, and operated by Aerovironment Inc., Simi Valley, CA. Pathfinder is a lightweight flying wing whose six electric motors each drive a propeller. Solar cells covering the 98-foot-wing span wing provide power to the motors and other systems. Pathfinder's record-breaking flight began with a takeoff into light ocean breezes. After completion of low-level system checks, Pathfinder began climbing, and six hours into its flight, passed its previously set record of 50,500 feet. After the aircraft climbed to 67,350 feet, the decision was made to land. Pathfinder spent over 90 minutes flying above 60,000 feet. The solar-powered vehicle completed its mission with a perfect landing. "This achievement is a direct result of the teamwork of NASA, the Pacific Missile Range Facility, Aerovironment, and the Kauai Community College," said Jennifer Baer-Riedhart, the Pathfinder Program Manager at Dryden.

A unique aspect of the Pathfinder flight test was the extensive use of special-purpose computational techniques developed by NASA's Ames Research Center, Mountain View, CA. These techniques were used to validate the aircraft's stability characteristics and to adjust the on-board control system characteristics "on the fly" at regular altitude intervals. The Environmental Research Aircraft and Sensor Technology Alliance is made up of NASA, industry, and the environmental science community. Participants have access to NASA technology and expertise in return for giving assistance in NASA projects. Kauai Community College has personnel and equipment that assist in the maintenance, repair, and operation of the program's aircraft for which NASA provides technical work experience and additional equipment, including spare solar panels. The Environmental Research Aircraft and Sensor Technology Program is NASA's response to growing scientific requirements for measurements at higher altitudes and longer durations than the current fleet of scientific platforms permits. The predominant focus of the program consists of advancing the technology of remotely piloted aircraft. Concurrent efforts in development, miniaturization, and integration of science sensors can be later applied to important science missions. Pathfinder is one of many projects and aircraft in the program. Pathfinder's entire mission was monitored, and the world record will be certified, by the National Aeronautic Association's Capt. E.E. "Buck" Hilbert, Chairman of the Contest and Records Board. Additional missions for Pathfinder this year include other high-altitude flights and several science missions with payloads supplied by Ames for monitoring coral reef degradation and deforestation around the island of Kauai. -endNOTE TO EDITORS: Pathfinder photos are available on the Internet under NASA Dryden Research Aircraft Photo Archive, Dryden News and Feature Photos at URL: http://www.dfrc.nasa.gov/PhotoServer