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Altus I aircraft on lakebed The remotely-piloted Altus I aircraft sits on Rogers Dry Lake adjacent to NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center, Edwards, Calif.

Photo Number: EC97-44175-21
Photo Date: Aug. 1997

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The remotely-piloted Altus I aircraft climbs away after takeoff from Rogers Dry Lake adjacent to NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center, Edwards, Calif. The short series of test flights sponsored by the Naval Postgraduate School in early August, 1997, were designed to demonstrate the ability of the experimental craft to cruise at altitudes above 40,000 feet for sustained durations. On its final flight Aug. 15, the Altus I reached an altitude of 43,500 feet. The Altus I and its sister ship, the Altus II, are variants of the Predator surveillance drone built by General Atomics/Aeronautical Systems, Inc. They are designed for high-altitude, long-duration scientific sampling missions, and are powered by turbocharged piston engines. The Altus I incorporates a single-stage turbocharger, while the Altus II, built for NASA’s Environmental Research Aircraft and Sensor Technology program, sports a two-stage turbocharger to enable the craft to fly at altitudes above 55,000 feet.

The Altus II, the first of the two craft to be completed, made its first flight on May 1, 1996. With its engine augmented by a single-stage turbocharger, the Altus II reached an altitude of 37,000 ft during its first series of development flights at Dryden in Aug., 1996. In Oct. of that year, the Altus II was flown in an Atmospheric Radiation Measurement study for the Department of Energy's Sandia National Laboratory in Oklahoma. During the course of those flights, the Altus II set a single-flight endurance record for remotely-operated aircraft of more than 26 hours.

The Altus I, completed in 1997, flew a series of development flights at Dryden that summer. Those test flights culminated with the craft reaching an altitude of 43,500 ft while carrying a simulated 300-lb payload, a record for an unmanned aircraft powered by a piston engine augmented with a single-stage turbocharger.

The Altus II sustained an altitude of 55,000 feet for four hours in 1999. A pilot in a control station on the ground flies the craft by radio signals, using visual cues from a video camera in the nose of the Altus and information from the craft’s air data system.

NASA Photo by: Carla Thomas

Keywords: Altus I; ERAST; Naval Postgraduate School; high altitude; long duration; turbocharged; 43;500 feet; Predator surveillance drone; General Atomics/Aeronautical Systems Inc.; Environmental Research Aircraft and Sensor Technology program

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