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History of Centurion

The Centurion's genesis took place approximately 2 years ago when a challenge to reach 100,000 ft with a remotely piloted vehicle was given to the ERAST Program. A solar powered airplane called the Pathfinder which was a span loaded flying wing had proven so effective, that expanding on this concept and all the proven technology was viewed by the ERAST Program as the lowest risk approach toward meeting the altitude goal. Therefore the design of Centurion resulted in an aircraft that looks very much like the Pathfinder but with a much longer wingspan....206 ft. Although the Centurion shape resembles the Pathfinder, the structure was designed to be stronger and capable of carrying numerous payloads (up to 600 lbs.) more efficiently.

centurion Image of the Centurion aircraft

The aircraft arrived at NASA Dryden Flight Research Center on September 9 to begin preparations for its maiden flight. The initial flight test series would be conducted at altitudes no greater than 500 feet above the floor of Roger's Dry Lake and would all be battery powered (solar cells are very expensive and to reduce risk to the program it was decided early on that they would not be installed until the airplane configuration is thoroughly tested). The aircraft showed up with 14 motors and weighed in at 1,385 lbs (including a 150 lb. steel anvil hanging on its centerline to simulate a payload) for it's first flight. The maiden flight took place on November 10 and lasted a total of 1 hr and 24 minutes. The flight was nearly flawless and was followed by a second similar performance on November 19, this time before a crowd of VIP's and Media. It lasted 1 hr and 29 minutes. The third and final flight of the low altitude test series took place on December 3. On this flight the vehicle was loaded down to its maximum gross weight of 1806 lbs. to test its weight carrying capability. Total flight time on this flight was 30 minutes. The flight was shortened because high winds were anticipated by mid-morning. Flight data is currently being analyzed, but it appears that all major objectives were successfully met with these three flights and the Centurion is operating as designed.

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The next step for Centurion is an addition of a 6th wing panel which will bring the overall wingspan up to 250 ft. This is being done primarily because although Centurion is designed to reach 100,000ft, the primary goal for solar powered aircraft is to someday fly at high altitudes for months at a time. Rather than building a separate aircraft, the Centurion will be slowly modified over the years into what is called the "Helios" Prototype in order to save money. Therefore the Helios Prototype will perform the 100,000ft flight and soon thereafter will receive the final modifications that will transform the vehicle into an aircraft capable of performing a long duration flight demonstration of 100 hours. These missions are currently planned for the years 2002 and 2003 respectively. The Centurion was designed, built and test flown by AeroVironment with support from the NASA ERAST Program Office, Dryden Flight Research Center and Langley Research Center.

Project Milestones

Feb. 10, 1997 Centurion fabrication begins at the AeroVironment facility in Simi Valley, CA.
Mar. 4, 1997 Quarter scale model of Centurion takes to the air for the first time at El Mirage Dry Lake in California
Sept. 1, 1998 Centurion arrives at NASA Dryden Flight Research Center at Edwards Air Force Base, CA.
Nov. 10, 1998 Centurion Maiden flight takes place over Rogers Dry Lake at Edwards Air Force Base.
Jan. 1999 Modifications started to modify Centurion into Helios Prototype.

Centurion Links

Centurion Fact Sheet Centurion Photo Gallery Centurion Movie Gallery
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Last Modified: April 20, 2002
Responsible NASA Official: Jenny Baer-Riedhart
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