By Mandy Cannone
“I have many memorable moments over my 30 years here at AeroVironment, but there is one that stands out. Even as I was living the moment, I said to myself "this is a once in a lifetime event, and I am lucky to be a part of it.
It was August 2001 and I was asked to support the Helios Team and Business Development at PMRF in Hawaii. This was the big one, the high altitude test, and I was going to be there. I was very excited. We always worked as a team, no task too small, and what a wonderful gift to witness all the years of hard work and dedication payoff in the beautiful takeoff and landing of the Helios aircraft.
The day started before dawn and Helios took off at 8:48am. I knew it was going to be a long day for all, especially for the dedicated flight team and pilots. I was nervous all day and kept looking at one of the monitors in the hangar that showed a live feed from the wing cam. It was amazing. I was even lucky enough to tour the Command or Control Center inside PMRF where I saw the altitude climbing as everyone worked hard to make this a successful mission.
Around midnight I moved my car to a good viewing position near the runway and also within running distance to the only good cell reception spot on base. I had my cell phone in one hand and my walkie-talkie in the other, waiting for the latest descent information and approximate landing time. I was dozing off when I heard the news, "it's almost here!" I jumped out of the car to look for the lights - there they were, moving very slowing above the base. After 16 hours and 54 minutes, Helios landed at 1:42am. My first call was to a co-worker in California; I promised her I would deliver the good news as it happened: Helios had landed safely and was on its way back to the hangar.
I wish everyone could have been there to witness such an amazing milestone for the NASA ERAST Program, and more importantly, a major accomplishment for the AV Team in Hawaii and California. My heart was filled with joy as I congratulated everyone I saw, "job well done"!”