SOLAR-POWERED HELIOS SET FOR TEST FLIGHT.
EDWARDS AIR FORCE BASE - Researchers will try today to fly a solar-powered airplane higher than any propeller-driven aircraft has ever flown.
Unmanned, fragile-looking and with a 247-foot-wingspan, Helios is aimed for 100,000 feet on a flight that could take 17 hours - at 19 to 25 mph.
``Right now, with the weather predictions we have, we're hoping to reach 103,000 feet,'' NASA spokeswoman Jenny Baer-Riedhart said Friday.
The flight will be conducted over the U.S. Navy's Pacific Missile Range Facility on the Hawaiian island of Kauai. The flight was originally scheduled for Saturday but was postponed for some preflight equipment checks.
Alan Brown, a spokesman for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, said the delay could improve the plane's chances of reaching 100,000 feet because high cirrus clouds present Saturday may be gone today, permitting more sunlight to charge the aircraft's solar cells.
The flight will demonstrate the Helios' ability to monitor the ground from high altitude and gather atmospheric samples.
The project has two objectives: to reach 100,000 feet and to demonstrate nonstop flying for at least four days above 50,000 feet.
The long-duration flight is scheduled for 2003.
The flight testing is conducted under NASA's Environmental Research Aircraft and Sensor Technology program, which is developing technologies for high-altitude aircraft that can fly for days at a time.
The aircraft was built by AeroVironment Inc., a Monrovia, Calif. company.
Such aircraft could be used to study the Earth, the atmosphere, and natural and manmade climatic changes.
In July, Helios flew an 18-hour flight that reached an altitude of 76,200 feet. The 18-hour flight set an unofficial endurance mark for solar-powered aircraft, beating the previous mark by two hours.
The previous mark of 80,000 feet was set in August 1998 by another AeroVironment Inc. aircraft, named Pathfinder.