In a setback for AeroVironment's four-year demonstrator program, the first Global Observer unmanned aircraft system has crashed during flight-testing. AeroVironment has confirmed the "mishap" occurred at 2:30 am PDT on April 1st, approximately 18 hours into its ninth test flight at Edwards Air Force Base (EAFB) in California.

The Global Observer made its maiden flight under battery power on August 5, 2010 and its first hydrogen-powered flight on January 11 earlier this year. AeroVironment said the Global Observer was undergoing flight test envelope expansion and had been operating for nearly twice the endurance and at a higher altitude than previous flights when the crash occurred. There were no reports of injury or damage to other property as a result of the crash.

The overall goal of the program is to achieve five to seven days non-stop flight time.

"Flight testing an innovative new solution like Global Observer involves pushing the frontiers of technology and convention," said Tim Conver, AeroVironment chairman and chief executive officer. "Risk is a component of every flight test program, and the learning that results from a mishap enables us to improve system reliability and performance. One benefit of testing an unmanned aircraft system is that pilots and crew are not in harm's way when a mishap occurs."

AeroVironment is investigating the cause of the crash, with speculation that it will delay by around a year the completion of the program that was originally scheduled for completion in 2011.

"We will work closely with the Investigation Board to determine the cause of the mishap and once its findings are available we will apply its recommendations to future activities. Global Observer remains a compelling solution to important government and commercial needs," said Conver.

The downed aircraft was the first Global Observer (GO-1) to be completed, but AeroVironment says a second aircraft developed as part of the joint capability technology demonstration (JCTD) program is nearing completion at AeroVironment's development facility. However, the company has stated that most of the US$140 million in funding for the program that has been provided by six U.S. government agencies has been spent.