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Unmanned Aircraft Returns to Ground

July 16, 2001

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BARKING SANDS, Hawaii (AP) _ The unmanned, solar-powered aircraft Helios soared to 76,000 feet on its first test flight before returning to the ground Sunday.

``We accomplished all of our objectives,″ said John Hicks, program manager for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. ``The aircraft performed beautifully.″

The $15 million Helios aircraft was built by NASA and AeroVironment Inc. of Monrovia, Calif., which has produced many innovative aircraft including the human-powered Gossamer Albatross.

Later this summer, researchers intend to send the long, thin flying wing to 100,000 feet _ more than three times higher than commercial jets fly _ which would be a record altitude for an unmanned aircraft.

Researchers envision the aircraft as a surrogate satellite, or low-cost telecommunications platform. It also would provide the best way to measure the earth’s atmosphere at 60,000 feet to 100,000 feet, and could be used for such things as tracking hurricanes.

The 247-foot-long wing measures only 8 feet front to back and is controlled from the ground by two pilots using desktop computers. Its 14 propellers are driven by small electric motors powered by solar cells built into the wing.

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On the Net:

AeroVironment: http://www.aerovironment.com

Helios: http://www.dfrc.nasa.gov/Projects/Erast/helios.html

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