Detail View: NASA Image eXchange Collection: Centurion Quarter-scale Prototype Checkout on Ground prior to Flight

Centurion Quarter-scale Prototype Checkout on Ground prior to Flight
Rick Meininger, project manager for solar-powered aircraft builder AeroVironment, Inc., checks the airfoil of a battery-powered quarter-scale prototype of the remotely-piloted Centurion flying wing during taxi tests in March 1997 at California's El Mirage Dry Lake. Centurion was a unique remotely piloted, solar-powered airplane developed under NASA's Environmental Research Aircraft and Sensor (ERAST) Program at the Dryden Flight Research Center, Edwards, California. Dryden joined with AeroVironment, Inc., Monrovia, California, under an ERAST Joint Sponsored Research Agreement, to design, develop, manufacture, and conduct flight development tests for the Centurion. The airplane was believed to be the first aircraft designed to achieve sustained horizontal flight at altitudes of 90,000 to 100,000 feet. Achieving this capability would meet the ERAST goal of developing an ultrahigh-altitude airplane that could meet the needs of the science community to perform upper-atmosphere environmental data missions. Much of the technology leading to the Centurion was developed during the Pathfinder and Pathfinder-Plus projects. However, in the course of its development, the Centurion became a prototype technology demonstration aircraft designed to validate the technology for the Helios, a planned future high-altitude, solar-powered aircraft that could fly for weeks or months at a time on science or telecommunications missions. Centurion had 206-foot-long wings and used batteries to supply power to the craft's 14 electric motors and electronic systems. Centurion first flew at Dryden Nov. 10, 1998, and followed up with a second test flight Nov. 19. On its third and final flight on Dec. 3, the craft was aloft for 31 minutes and reached an altitude of about 400 feet. All three flights were conducted over a section of Rogers Dry Lake adjacent to Dryden. For its third flight, the Centurion carried a simulated payload of more than 600 pounds--almost half the lightweight aircraft's empty weight. John Del Frate, Dryden's project manager for solar-powered aircraft, said he was impressed to see how well the aircraft handled the large weight increase from an initial payload of 150 pounds to one of 600 pounds. During 1999, Centurion gave way to the Helios Prototype, the latest and largest example of a slow-flying ultralight flying wing designed for long-duration, high-altitude Earth science or telecommunications relay missions. This was an enlarged version of the Centurion flying wing with a wingspan of 247 feet, 41 feet greater than the Centurion, 2 1/2 times that of the solar-powered Pathfinder flying wing, and longer than the wingspans of either the Boeing 747 jetliner or Lockheed C-5 transport aircraft. In upgrading the Centurion to the Helios Prototype configuration, AeroVironment added a sixth wing section and a fifth landing gear pod, among other improvements. The additional wingspan increased the area available for installation of solar cells and improved its
NASA Dryden Flight Research Center (NASA-DFRC) [ ]
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