Aviation - Avions NASA-Prototypes
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The Helios Prototype is an enlarged version of the Centurion flying wing, which flew a series of test flights at Dryden in late 1998. The craft has a wingspan of 247 feet, 41 feet greater than the Centurion, 2 1/2 times that of its solar-powered Pathfinder flying wing and longer than either the Boeing 747 jetliner or Lockheed C-5 transport aircraft. It is one of several remotely-piloted aircraft-also known as uninhabited aerial vehicles or UAV's-being developed as technology demonstrators by several small airframe manufacturers under NASA's Environmental Research Aircraft and Sensor Technology (ERAST) project. Developed by AeroVironment, Inc., of Monrovia, Calif., the unique craft is intended to demonstrate two key missions: the ability to reach and sustain horizontal flight at 100,000 feet altitude on a single-day flight, and to maintain flight above 50,000 feet altitude for at least four days, both on electrical power derived from non-polluting solar energy. During later flights, AeroVironment's flight test team will evaluate new motor-control software which may allow the pitch of the aircraft (the nose-up or nose-down attitude in relation to the horizon) to be controlled entirely by the motors. If successful, production versions of the Helios could eliminate the elevators on the wing's trailing edge now used for pitch control, saving weight and increasing the area of the wing available for installation of solar cells.