Researchers at NASA's Langley Research Center have developed a ten-engine, battery-powered plane that takes off and lands vertically, like a helicopter, yet once airborne, flies like an airplane.
Engineers successfully tested the remote-controlled plane at a military base a couple hours from the research center in Virginia. The test took place late last week. This week, the aircraft is being showcased at the Association for Unmanned Vehicles Systems International 2015 conference in Atlanta, Georgia.
The prototype, named Greased Lightning or GL-10, is still in the design and testing phase, but after the test flights the consensus is: so far, so good.
"During the flight tests we successfully transitioned from hover to wing-borne flight like a conventional airplane then back to hover again. So far we have done this on five flights," Bill Fredericks, an aerospace engineer at Langley, said in a press release. "We were ecstatic. Now we're working on our second goal -- to demonstrate that this concept is four times more aerodynamically efficient in cruise than a helicopter."
The initial idea was to build a hybrid plane, with a combination of diesel and electric engines. But in the process of prototyping the aircraft resulted in the current all-electric plane.
The plane could serve a number of purposes, or it could serve as a model for a larger prototype.
"It could be used for small package delivery or vertical take off and landing, long endurance surveillance for agriculture, mapping and other applications," Fredericks said. "A scaled up version -- much larger than what we are testing now -- would make also a great one to four person size personal air vehicle."
More research is needed to determine how aerodynamically efficient the plane is. But the latest test flights prove that at the very least their model is sky-worthy.