Helios Sets New Altitude Record but Misses Goal

August 22, 1999 by Jeff Shepard

NASA's solar-powered flying wing, the Helios, returned to earth after ascending 96,500ft. NASA had hoped the $15.0 million aircraft would reach an altitude of 100,000ft, but declared the flight a success nonetheless.

"This is like going to the Olympics and setting a new world record for engineers," said John Del Frate, project manager for NASA's solar-powered aircraft.

It took the Helios about five hours to set the world altitude flight record and about nine and one-half hours to return home. The previous altitude record was 85,068ft, set in 1966 by a Lockheed SR-71 jet.