(July 2003) NASA’s Helios, an unmanned prototype, solar electric propeller driven, world record-setting aircraft crashed in Pacific on June 28th. The aircraft was testing an advanced experimental fuel cell system to prepare for a two day mission planned for next month.
The Helios crashed about thity minutesafter takeff near the U.S. Navy’s Pacific Missle Range Facility off the coast of the Hawaiian island of Kauai. The aircraft began to break apart at an elevation of 3,000 ft.
The $15 million dollar, nonrocket, winged aircraft set an aviation record in August 2001, soaring to a height of 96,863 feet, approximately three times higher than commercial jet flights. The Helios project was being considered a potential alternative to orbiting satellites; it was designed so as to remain in a stationary spot over the Earth’s surface for an expanded time period.
The cause of the crash of the plane is unknown as of this date. Thomas E. Noll of NASA’s Langley Research Center will be in charge of the investigation.
The Helios was built and operated by AeroVironment in Monrovia, California.