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
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.
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.
| 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