Helios Solar-Powered Aircraft Crashes

03 July 2003

The prototype solar-powered aircraft, Helios, which has set world altitude records, crashed on the Hawaiian island of Kauai during a test flight on Friday.

The crash of the unmanned aircraft caused no injuries or damage on the ground. NASA said the cause of the crash that destroyed the aircraft had not yet been determined. Made of carbon fiber and graphite, Helios was a prototype of an aircraft scientists plan to use as a ""flying satellite,"" capable of remaining aloft for months at a time and flying anywhere a mission requires.

Designed to reach altitudes of up to 100,000 feet (30,000 metres) on one-day missions and 65,000 feet on longer missions, Helios was one of several unmanned aircraft funded by NASA.

It set a world record for altitude for a winged aircraft in August 2001, soaring to 96,863 feet on a flight from Kauai.

The propeller aircraft took off from a US Navy base in Kauai at 10:06 am local time Friday and was in flight for 29 minutes before the crash. Helios, which cost some 15 million dollars, was gearing up for a two-day flight in July. NASA, manufacturer AeroVironment and the US Navy are forming an accident investigation team to determine the cause of the crash.

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