A $15 million solar-powered aircraft is being tested in Hawaii this summer.LIHUE, Hawaii, US, 2001-08-07 [SolarAccess.com] A $15 million solar-powered aircraft is being tested in Hawaii this summer. AeroVironment contracted with the National Aeronautics & Space Administration to develop the craft, which is powered by 62,000 solar cells. The unmanned, remote-controlled craft, Helios, is being test flown at the U.S. Navy Pacific Missile Range facility on the island of Kauai. The experimental aircraft has a single, boomerang-shaped, translucent, 247-foot-long flexible wing. The craft is capable of soaring to 100,000 feet, 25 percent higher than the current altitude record for a propeller-drive plane set by its predecessor, Pathfinder Plus, in 1998. The solar cells will generate 40 kilowatts of power to drive the 14 propellers, but it needs only 10 kW to operate. If fuel cells are installed to give the aircraft the ability to store excess solar power for use at night, Helios would be able to stay in the air for months at a time. It also can remain in one spot over the earth’s surface for an extended period and function as a cheap reusable satellite to provide telecommunications and remote digital television services. The U.S. government plans to use Helios for a variety of earth science research programs, such as remote-sensing and imaging of the atmosphere and water to study climate change and ozone depletion. It can also be used to monitor the health of fisheries, forest resources, track hurricanes, tornadoes and volcanic eruptions as well as determine the readiness of crops for harvest. The military may use Helios for surveillance because it is silent, cannot be detected by radar and, at maximum altitude, can fly at 200 mph.