NASA Pathfinder Air Bags

In 1994 the aircraft transferred to the NASA ERAST Program to develop science platform aircraft technology. It was renamed “Pathfinder” because it was “literally the pathfinder for a future fleet of solar-powered aircraft that could stay airborne for weeks or months on scientific sampling and imaging missions”. 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 feet (15,000 m) and 80,000 feet (24,000 m)) 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.