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Engineers At Ventura County Based Aerospace Company Celebrate Successful Mars Mission

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(KCLU photo by Lance Orozco)
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Engineer Matt Keennon flies "Terry," which is a modified twin version of the "Ingenuity" helicopter which flew on Mars

Built first powered craft to fly on another planet; Modified version of it being used for research on Earth

In a football field sized building in Moorpark, a strange looking remote controlled helicopter which looks like a flying spider is making wide circles several feet in the air.

But, what's more interesting than the helicopter is the group of people watching it. They are four engineers with the Simi Valley-based aerospace company AeroVironment. They not only built this helicopter, they designed it’s cousin, “Ingenuity.” That’s the unique helicopter which a few weeks ago became the first powered craft to fly on another planet.

Matt Keennon is AeroVironment’s Principal Electrical Engineer. He, Sara Langberg, Jeremy Tyler, and Ben Pipenberg built “Ingenuity." He says they are thrilled the Mars mission was successful.

Pipenberg, who was the project’s lead engineer, talks about what it was like watching that first flight last month. He admits it was tense, because eight years of work had gone into the project.

“Ingenuity” Engineer Sara Langberg says when they found out the first flight was successful, champagne flowed.

The four pound helicopter, which had to be specially designed to fly in the thin Mars atmosphere, has successfully completed its goal: To fly five times
to demonstrate if it’s possible on another planet. Did everything go exactly as planned? Engineer Matt Keennon admits there are some things they learned, and would do differently, but says they were overjoyed the craft did what it was supposed to do.

It’s one of the higher profile projects by AeroVironment. The half century old Ventura County based company is known for its innovative unmanned aerial craft, many of which are top secret military projects.

President and CEO Wahid Nawabi says “Ingenuity” sets the stage for a new era in space exploration, and that the company will continue to advance the technology.

And, remember that helicopter we told you about, which is being flown around in AeroVironment’s Moorpark building? Engineer Ben Pipenberg says the craft, named "Terry," is a relative of “Ingenuity.”

And, what about “Ingenuity,” sitting on the surface of Mars? It’s completed it’s five planned flights, but is still operational. Pipenberg says while it’s ultimately up to NASA and JPL, it looks like it may fly a few more times past its planned lifespan.

The AeroVironment team says they are going through the important data they’ve received from “Ingenuity’s” Mars flights, and are hoping to use that to create a next generation of helicopters to explore other planets.

They might be able to gather information, perhaps land to do tests, and even help find landing spots for the first manned missions to Mars, and beyond.