Colloquium: November 1, 2011

Fly Forever: Pursuing the Dream of Indefinite Endurance Flight

Craig Nickol

TUESDAY: November 1, 2011 2:00 P.M. in the H.J.E. Reid Auditorium.


The idea of building an airplane that utilizes a sustainable or renewable energy source enabling virtually unlimited endurance has been a dream of airplane designers for over 50 years. Mr. Nickol will tell the story of the development of solar powered aircraft leading to the current pursuit of an operationally useful solar powered High Altitude Long Endurance Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (HALE UAV) with an energy storage system enabling multi-year endurance capability. An early attempt included utilizing a beamed microwave source to fly a helicopter model, achieving 10 hours of continuous hover at a height of 60 feet in 1964. Fifteen years later, the Kremer prizes spurred Paul MacCready to design a human powered aircraft that successfully flew across the English Channel. The lightweight and low power requirements of the human powered airplane design enabled solar powered versions to be built, ultimately leading in 2001 to the world-record setting Helios, a solar powered aircraft with a 247 foot wingspan. Still, the dream of indefinite endurance remained beyond reach. Better technology was needed, and only recently have advances in solar cell and regenerative fuel cell performance brought us to the verge of realizing the dream. A Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) project called Vulture is now investing $89M towards making the dream a reality. Mr. Nickol will discuss the current status and future plans for the Vulture project.


Craig NickolMr. Nickol is an aerospace engineer in the Aeronautics Systems Analysis Branch (ASAB) of the Systems Analysis and Concepts Directorate (SACD) at the NASA Langley Research Center, where he has worked for 8 years. During this time Mr. Nickol has supported the Vehicle Systems Program, leading an analysis of alternatives study of HALE UAV concepts, and is currently supporting both the Environmentally Responsible Aviation (ERA) project, and DARPA’s Vulture project. Mr. Nickol has led independent technical assessments in support of the Vulture project, and is currently serving as the COTR on the Vulture Phase II contract. Prior to coming to NASA in 2003, Mr. Nickol spent 9 years at the Naval Air Systems Command, in the advanced design branch, and the maritime patrol program office, PMA-290. Mr. Nickol supported a variety of carrier-based aircraft design and development efforts, and also served as the Deputy Team Lead for the Multi-mission Maritime Aircraft (MMA – now P-8A Poseidon) program. Mr. Nickol was awarded the Navy Meritorious Civilian Service Award and Medal in 2003 for his efforts in support of the MMA program. Mr. Nickol holds a B.S. degree in Aerospace Engineering from Case Western Reserve University, and a M.S. degree in aerospace engineering from the University of Virginia.