Fuel Cell Airplane's Shakedown Flight Identifies Items Requiring Work Before Extended Duration Mission in July
June 9, 2003
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--nasa-- Note to Editors: Fuel Cell Airplane's Shakedown Flight Identifies Items Requiring Work Before Extended Duration Mission in July
Researchers from NASA and Aerovironment, Inc., brought the remotely piloted Helios electrically powered flying wing back to land 15 hours after takeoff -- about three hours earlier than planned -- after recording some anomalies with the aircraft's revolutionary fuel cell system. This was to have been Helios' first flight using fuel cell technology after taking off under solar cell power, but the fuel cell was not brought on line, said NASA Helios project manager John Del Frate from the Dryden Flight Reserarch Center, Edwards, Calif. The flight took off at 8:43 a.m. June 7 from the U.S. Navy's Pacific Missile Range Facility on the Hawaiian island of Kauai.
Del Frate said the Helios team was prepared for surprises with this first flight with the fuel cell on board Helios. "It's a shakedown flight," he said. "That's what we're here for." Del Frate likened this first flight to using a huge altitude chamber to check the fuel cell under extremes of low temperatures and low atmospheric pressure up to about 50,000 feet. "This is exactly the kind of thing we were expecting to find out," he said. He said the Helios team will inspect the aircraft and digest data from the flight before making another takeoff, which might come before month's end. He said until the team has a chance to go over all the data and look closely at Helios, he could not characterize what precluded operation of the fuel cell.
Ultimately, remotely piloted aircraft using a combination of fuel cells and solar cells may be able to stay aloft for weeks at a time, serving as environmental monitoring vehicles or telecommunications relays.
More information about Helios' planned flights for 2003 is available online in news releases from the NASA Dryden Flight Research Center's Web site. Photos of Helios' June 7 takeoff are posted on the NASA Dryden Web site Gallery section. /centers/dfrc/Gallery/Photo/Helios/index.html
The NASA Dryden Public Affairs Office opens at 7:30 a.m. Pacific Daylight Time Monday; media query messages may be left today for Alan Brown at (661) 276-2665, or Fred Johnsen at (661) 276-2998.
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