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ERAST Program Proteus Aircraft in Flight over the Tehachapi Mountains in Southern California ERAST Program Proteus Aircraft in Flight over the Tehachapi Mountains in Southern California

Photo Number: EC99-45110-14
Photo Date: September 1999

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The unique shape of the Proteus high-altitude aircraft is clearly visible in this photo of the plane in flight above the rocky slopes of the Tehachapi Mountains near Mojave, California, where the Proteus was designed and built.

In the Proteus Project, NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center, Edwards, California, is assisting Scaled Composites, Inc., Mojave, California, in developing a sophisticated station-keeping autopilot system and a Satellite Communications (SATCOM)-based uplink-downlink data system for aircraft and payload data under NASA’s Environmental Research Aircraft and Sensor Technology (ERAST) project. The ERAST Project is sponsored by the Office of Aero-Space Technology at NASA Headquarters, and is managed by the Dryden Flight Research Center.

The Proteus is a unique aircraft, designed as a high-altitude, long-duration telecommunications relay platform with potential for use on atmospheric sampling and Earth-monitoring science missions. The aircraft is designed to be flown by two pilots in a pressurized cabin, but also has the potential to perform its missions semiautonomously or be flown remotely from the ground.

Flight testing of the Proteus, beginning in the summer of 1998 at Mojave Airport through the end of 1999, included the installation and checkout of the autopilot system, including the refinement of the altitude hold and altitude change software. The SATCOM equipment, including avionics and antenna systems, had been installed and checked out in several flight tests. The systems performed flawlessly during the Proteus’s deployment to the Paris Airshow in 1999.

NASA’s ERAST project funded development of an Airborne Real-Time Imaging System (ARTIS). Developed by HyperSpectral Sciences, Inc., the small ARTIS camera was demonstrated during the summer of 1999 when it took visual and near-infrared photos over the Experimental Aircraft Association’s "AirVenture 99" Airshow at Oshkosh, Wisconsin. The images were displayed on a computer monitor at the show only moments after they were taken. This was the second successful demonstration of the ARTIS camera.

The aircraft is designed to cruise at altitudes from 59,000 to more than 65,000 feet for up to 18 hours. It was designed and built by Burt Rutan, president of Scaled Composites, Inc., to carry an 18-foot diameter telecommunications antenna system for relay of broadband data over major cities. The design allows for Proteus to be reconfigured at will for a variety of other missions such as atmospheric research, reconnaissance, commercial imaging, and launch of small space satellites. It is designed for extreme reliability and low operating costs, and to operate out of general aviation airports with minimal support.

The aircraft consists of an all composite airframe with graphite-epoxy sandwich construction. It has a wingspan of 77 feet 7 inches, expandable to 92 feet with removable wingtips installed. It is 56.3 feet long and 17.6 feet high and weighs 5,900 pounds,empty. Proteus is powered by two Williams-Rolls FJ44-2 turbofan engines developing 2,300 pounds of thrust each.

NASA Photo by: Patrick Wright

Keywords: Burt Rutan; ERAST; Proteus; Williams-Rolls; Dryden Flight Research Center; Scaled Composites; Inc.; FJ44-2 engine

Last Modified: February 6, 2002
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