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.
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.
| Early 1980's
|| First developed for a classified program.
|| 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.
|| 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.