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This was one of GDIN's most public experiment, a partnership with NASA to use the Helios unmanned solar powered aircraft, a prototype series under study by NASA.   Called Peacewing in GDIN, the Pathfinder or Helios solar powered aircraft were to fly over a natural disaster.  On board sensors and cameras would produce less expensive imagery than satellites or manned aircraft. The experiment will test political confidence building measures to reduce a reluctance by some governments to allow over flights.

Unfortunetly, the project ahd to be abandoned in 2003 when Helios, which had set an altitude record in 2001 broke apart during a test flight June 26, 2003 and crashed into the Pacific Ocean, according to NASA officials: The Helios Prototype solar electric plane crashed some distance off Kauai inside the test area of the US Navy's Pacific Missile Range Facility at Barking Sands.  The news was released by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Helios was a $15 million dollar, solar-electric project.  She was propeller-driven and had a wingspan of 247 feet.  Described by some as more like a flying wing than a conventional plane.  Helios reached an altitude of 96,500 feet during a flight in 2001 also from Barking Sands. The roughly 18 mile altitude, was considered by NASA to be a record for a propeller powered winged aircraft.  It was designed for atmospheric science and imaging missions as well as relaying telecommunications up to 100,000 feet.

GDIN has consistently called for NASA to refund solar powered flight. 

Down load ERAST briefing by Larry Roeder, then Senior Policy Adviser, US Department of State

Download a briefing ued at the GDIN Canberra Conference

Download a briefing used at the GDIN Ankara Conference

Imagery and derived products are needed to respond to and mitigate all types and phases of disasters, whether natural disasters like land slides in Turkey, fires in Indonesia or Mexico, hurricanes in Honduras or complex humanitarian emergencies. Platforms are Peacewing can also deliver such products for environmental studies, allowing us to more fully understand the climatic changes described by former Vice President Gore and their impact on endangered species and the food chain.


Neutrality: The government in control of a studied territory may be afraid that the imagery is being used for adverse military, intelligence or commercial purposes.

Cost: Satellites and manned aircraft are very expensive. Satellites cost over $100 million each to build and launch. They usually only do one thing and can't be moved to a disaster site.

Data Ownership: Governments and corporations often want a return on the cost of production. As a result, data can be expensive and distribution can also be slow.

Danger: Manned aircraft risk human lives and harm the environment.

Quality: Data from satellites can be provided at no better than one meter resolution. Though fully sufficient for many applications, sub-meter is also a critical requirement for finding individual people and conducting many urgent missions.


Lower the cost of imagery.

Enhance data distribution.

Not risk lives or the environment.

Be trusted as politically neutral and transparent.

Operate at various altitudes and for extensive periods of time.

Provide: Sub-meter imagery.

Be Mobile: be capable of being moved to a disaster site on demand and be cable of handling a wide array of sensor requirements.


A GDIN related experiment using the Helios unmanned solar powered aircraft, a prototype series under study by NASA.

Pathfinder will fly over a foreign natural disaster.

On board sensors and cameras will produce less expensive imagery than satellites or manned aircraft.

The experiment will test political confidence building measures to reduce a reluctance by some governments to allow over flights.


The host government and a set of local partners from the NGO, Academic and UN community must see the plane before it takes off, be allowed to choose and examine the instruments and sit in the control room so that it knows that the instruments only do specific "non-political" tasks.

All project information will be posted on a neutral web site -- supports transparency.


A dedicated website: will get a live feed of images as they occur and also act as a repository for all other project images.

Cost is decreased and effectiveness is increased because all actors in a disaster will have a common source of reliable information -- the need for alternative routes is also reduced in many cases.


Sensor data will go to an analytical center, which will transform the data into useful derived products.

All analysis is given for free in fast moving disasters or at the lowest practical cost -- however, providers to retain the right to charge.

Deployment of a small fleet of unmanned solar aircraft under special political constrictions to disaster prone regions will likely cause: Increased use and distribution of imagery and derived products and Decreased cost of these products. Concept protects local interests related to security and the economy.

Peacewing Prototype Project (PPP): A proposal by NOAA for the initial demonstration of the solar-powered Peacewing aircraft for disaster management, severe weather forecasting, and environmental monitoring was submitted to the NASA UAV Science-based demonstration program in March, 2001. Due to unanticipated funding shortfalls, NASA could not afford to fund the NOAA Peacewing demonstration, but instead funded two smaller UAV efforts to study harvesting of coffee and lightning around storms. PPP would have provided an initial and critical demonstration of hyperspectral and infrared imaging of fires, standing water, infrastructure, and coral reefs, along with microwave imagery of precipitation. It would also have provided a demonstration of a sky-based Internet telecommunication system that would provide immediate distribution of the Peacewing aerial imagery to ground personnel. Funding for the PPP is currently being sought from other sources.

For further information on the Peacewing Prototype Project, contact Dr. Albin J. Gasiewski, NOAA Environmental Technology Laboratory, (303) 497-7275.


The Peacewing Prototype Project:
A Vectored Earth Observing System (VEOS) for the New Millennium

The demonstration of a "Vectored" Earth Observing System (VEOS) for severe weather forecasting, disaster management, and environmental monitoring is being studied by an interagency team lead by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Adminstration's Environmental Technology Laboratory (ETL). The risk reduction phase of the PPP project will be ongoing through the end of calendar year 2000. Further information on the project can be obtained through the principal investigator, Dr. Al Gasiewski, at or (303) 497-7275.


Press Announcement by NASA on Project
NASA's Environmental Research Aircraft and Sensor Technology Program (ERAST) is maturing technologies in aircraft that could be used world wide to monitor crops and for better predictions of the impact of natural disasters. Find out more...