ESRL Global Systems Division

Dr. John Brown of NOAA Honored with NASA Group Achievement Award

NOAA Forecast Systems Laboratory researcher Dr. John Brown is invited to attend a ceremony on June 10, 2005, at the Langley Research Center in honor of his contributions to the Helios Prototype Aircraft Mishap Investigation Team. Dr. Brown, along with colleagues from several NASA laboratories, served on a board to investigate the crash of Helios, a solar-powered "flying wing" Remotely Piloted Aircraft that suffered structural failure and fell into the Pacific Ocean during a long-duration test flight on June 26, 2003. As a facilitator of the independent working group that focused on the Helios flight environment, Dr. Brown's team performed simulations and actual flight measurements of turbulence to better understand the overall flow patterns in the vicinity of Kauai, and airflow turbulence induced by flow over and around the island. The board determined that the mishap resulted from the inability to predict, using available analysis methods, the aircraft's increased sensitivity to atmospheric disturbances such as turbulence, following vehicle configuration changes required for the long-duration flight demonstration. The report is available for download from NASA (3.5 MB PDF). "The mishap underscores our need to assess carefully our assumptions as we push the boundaries of our knowledge," said Dr. Victor Lebacqz, Associate Administrator for NASA's Office of Aeronautics. "It should not, however, diminish the significant progress AeroVironment and NASA have made over the past ten years in advancing the capabilities of this unique class of aircraft on many successful flights, including Helios' record-setting flight to just under 97,000 feet altitude in August 2001. It is important that we learn from this experience, and apply the board's findings and recommendations to help ensure the payoffs of such vehicles are fully realized."

NOAA and NASA collaborations such as this further our ability to overcome the engineering obstacles to very long-duration, very high-altitude RPV operations. Such operations have promise for both environmental monitoring and high-bandwidth wireless communications.

Contact information
Name: Rhonda K Lange
Tel: 303-497-6045
Rhonda.K.Lange@noaa.gov