Laser system boosts UAS flight time

July 12, 2012 at 1:02 PM
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PALMDALE, Calif., July 12 (UPI) -- A laser power system has been used to vastly expand the flight time of a small unmanned aerial system used by U.S. Special Operations Forces.

Lockheed Martin and LaserMotive Inc. conducted a demonstration of the technology and said the flight duration of the Stalker UAS was extended to 48 hours.

"We're pleased with the results of this test," said Tom Koonce, Lockheed Martin Skunk Works Stalker program manager.

"Laser power holds real promise in extending the capabilities of Stalker. A ground-to-air recharging system like this allows us to provide practically unlimited flight endurance to extend and expand the mission profiles that the Stalker vehicle can fulfill."

The Stalker, used for surveillance, reconnaissance and intelligence missions, is a hand-launched system. It weighs just 14 pounds and uses a low-noise electric engine. Its current flight endurance time is 2 hours.

Lockheed said in the indoor demonstration a Stalker was modified to incorporate the LaserMotive system, which enables a wireless transfer of energy over long distances using laser light as a continual source of power to a UAS.

The battery on the Stalker held more energy when the test was completed than at the beginning of the wind-tunnel demonstration, it said.

"This test is one of the final steps in bringing laser-powered flight to the field," said Tom Nugent, president of LaserMotive. "By enabling in-flight recharging, this system will ultimately extend capabilities, improve endurance and enable new missions for electric aircraft.

"The next step in proving the reality of this technology is to demonstrate it outdoors in an extended flight of the Stalker."

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