AeroVironment Inc., located in California, said Monday the test flight was conducted Aug. 5 from Edwards Air Force Base with a retired Air Force test pilot operating the system's portable Launch and Recovery Element.
"This flight marks the beginning of an exciting new phase in the Global Observer technology demonstration program, and it represents a significant leap forward in the evolution of airborne communications and sensor platforms," said Tim Conver, AV's chairman and chief executive officer. "In the 20th century, conventional airplanes opened the lower atmosphere to practical use, and satellites did the same for space. I believe that Global Observer soon will establish the stratosphere as a valuable and practical area of operation."
AeroVironment is developing the Global Observer system to operate as a "stratospheric geosynchronous satellite system" with regional coverage and no signal delay.
"Two Global Observer aircraft, each flying for up to a week at a time, will alternate coverage over any area on the Earth, providing a seamless, persistent platform for high-value missions such as communications relay, remote sensing, long-term surveillance and disaster recovery," the company said.
In the flight, the hybrid aircraft flew under battery power. Ultimately it will carry a liquid hydrogen-fueled propulsion system to power it through a high-altitude, long-endurance joint operational utility assessment planned for later in 2010.
Each aircraft in a Global Observer system is designed to fly at an altitude of between 55,000 and 65,000 feet for five to seven days. That altitude allows communications and sensor payloads on the aircraft to service an area on the surface of the Earth up to 600 miles in diameter, equivalent to more than 280,000 square miles of coverage.
The joint test team is preparing communications and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance payloads for aircraft integration. Once development flight tests are complete, payloads will be installed and joint operational utility flight demonstrations will be performed, the company said.