In 1998, Pathfinder was upgraded to become Pathfinder-Plus, with a new center wing panel that increased the wingspan from 99 feet to 121 feet. Pathfinder-Plus was fitted with new high-efficiency solar cells on its center wing panel and other improvements that enabled it to set anther altitude record of 80,201 feet for propeller-driven aircraft in August 1998.
The upgraded solar and control system technology validated in the Pathfinder-Plus led to development of the Helios, which set the current world altitude record for propeller-driven aircraft in level flight of 96,863 feet near the Hawaiian island of Kaua'i in 2001.
During the summer of 2002, the Pathfinder-Plus flew several demonstration missions over Hawaii to confirm the practical utility of high-flying, remotely piloted, environmentally friendly solar aircraft for commercial purposes, emphasizing its capabilities as a relay platform for telecommunications and aerial surveillance of crops. Pathfinder-Plus' final mission in September 2005 saw the featherweight craft perform atmospheric turbulence measurements at Edwards AFB under the auspices of NASA Dryden.
"Those of us on the NASA / AeroVironment team will always consider ourselves to be privileged to have been allowed to explore some of those'veiled' regimes with the Pathfinder," Del Frate reflected. "We are honored that the vehicle now 'flies' in the company of other great aircraft at the National Air and Space Museum."
Other innovations of Monrovia, Calif.-based AeroVironment or its founder, Dr. Paul MacCready , that are in the permanent collection of the Smithsonian include the Gossamer Condor, Gossamer Albatross, Solar Challenger and Quetzalcoatlus Northropi replica Pterosaur aircraft and the Sunraycer solar race car developed for General Motors.
The National Air and Space Museum's Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center displays among its artifacts the larger icons in the museum's collection, including a Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird, the space shuttle prototype Enterprise, a Concorde and the "Dash 80" Boeing 707 prototype, along with thousands of other smaller items. The center is open daily.
For more information about NASA Dryden Flight Research Center and its research projects, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/centers/dryden.
For more on AeroVironment, visit: http://www.avinc.com/about_overview.php.
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