As much as 75 percent, by weight, of the Helios Prototype
solar electric airplane that crashed into the Pacific Ocean June 26
has been recovered from the waters several miles west of the Hawaiian
island of Kauai.

The Helios Prototype is part of a NASA Dryden Flight Research
Center project to develop unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) technologies
to enable UAVs to perform a variety of long-duration missions
including environmental monitoring and telecommunications relay
services. Helios was built and operated by AeroVironment, Inc. of
Monrovia, Calif.

Researchers said the 247-ft. remotely piloted flying wing
aircraft, operating on solar cell power, was at about 3,000 feet in
restricted Navy test range airspace when it experienced control
difficulties that resulted in severe oscillations before Helios
sustained some structural damage and went down. AeroVironment’s solar
aircraft team have previously conducted nine successful flights with
the Helios Prototype and more than 40 on predecessor solar aircraft.
NASA has convened a mishap investigation board on Kauai to determine
the cause of the crash.

Among debris recovered with the help of the U.S. Navy’s
Pacific Missile Range Facility and the Niihau Ranch were the two
hydrogen fuel tanks carried by Helios in a quest to validate fuel
cell electric power technology for airborne applications. Helios team
members say none of the recovered pieces will be reusable because of
damage and salt-water contamination. They say the crash does not pose
environmental hazards. Formal recovery efforts ended on June 28, but
debris patrols of the beaches on the west side of Kauai continue.