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Pathfinder Plus aircraft in flight among clouds
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Mission Statement

The Pathfinder was designed and fabricated by AeroVironment in the early 1980's to support a classified program. After its initial flight series, it was determined that the technology required had not reached a level where ultra long duration flight (many days) under solar power could be achieved. At that point the aircraft was placed in storage. In 1993, the aircraft was brought back to flight status by the Ballistic Missile Defence Organization and in 1994, transferred to NASA to develop science platform aircraft technology as part of the NASA's Environmental Research Aircraft and Sensor Technology (ERAST) Program.


pathfinder in flight pathfinder

A series of flights were planned to demonstrate that an extremely light and fragile aircraft structure with a very high aspect ratio (the ratio between the wingspan and the wing chord) can successfully take-off and land from an airport and can be flown to extremely high altitudes (between 50,000 and 80,000 feet) propelled by the power of the sun.

In addition, the ERAST Project also wanted to determine the feasibility of such a UAV for carrying instruments used in a variety of scientific studies.

Pathfinder Plus

pathfinder in flight Pathfinder

Project Milestones

Early 1980's First developed for a classified program.
1994 Adopted into ERAST program.
September 11, 1995 Set first altitude record for solar-powered aircraft at 50,000 feet during a 12-hour flight.
October 21, 1995 Severly damaged in a hanger mishap.
July 7, 1997 Shatters old record to set new altitude record for propeller-driven as well as solar-powered aircraft of 71,530 feet.
1998 Pathfinder modified into the longer-winged Pathfinder plus.
August 6, 1998 Pathfinder-Plus breaks old record again to set a new record altitude of 80,201 feet.

Pathfinder Links

Pathfinder Fact Sheet Pathfinder Photo Collection Pathfinder Plus Photo Collection Pathfinder Movie Collection
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Last Modified: April 20, 2002
Responsible NASA Official: Jenny Baer-Riedhart
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