The Helios Prototype is a remotely-piloted solarpowered flying wing developed to demonstrate the
capability of achieving two significant milestones for NASA's Environmental
Research Aircraft and Sensor Technology (ERAST) project.
Firstly, reaching and sustaining flight at an altitude near
100,000 feet and secondly, flying non-stop for at least 24 hours including at
least 14 hours above 50,000 feet.
In 2001, Helios achieved the first of these goals by reaching
an unofficial world-record altitude for a non-rocket powered aircraft of 96,863
feet and sustaining flight above 96,000 feet for more than 40 minutes during a
test flight near Hawaii.
The Helios Prototype is an enlarged version of the Centurion
flying wing, flown at Dryden, California in late 1998 to verify the handling
qualities and performance of a lightweight all-wing aircraft of more than
It was renamed the Helios Prototype to clearly identify it as a
forerunner of the eventual Helios production aircraft, which will be designed to
fly continuously for up to six months at a time on scientific and commercial
Developed by AeroVironment Inc, of Monrovia, California, the
Helios Prototype has what is probably the most interesting pedigree in aviation
history. In 1959 the British industrialist Henry Kremer announced a competition
with a prize of $95,000 for the first man-powered aircraft to successfully
demonstrate sustained, manoeuvrable human-powered flight.
Dr Paul MacCready and Dr Peter Lissamen designed the "Gossamer
Condor", constructed of thin aluminium tubes and Mylar film, supported with
stainless steel wire. On August 23, 1977, championship bicyclist and hang-glider
enthusiast Bryan Allen flew the Condor for 7 minutes, 2.7 seconds, over a closed
figure-8 course to win the coveted $95,000 Kremer Prize.