HAMPTON, Va., May 4 (UPI) -- Researchers at NASA's Langley Research Center, in Hampton, Va. have developed a ten-engine, battery-powered plane that takes off and lands like a helicopter but, once airborne, maneuvers like an airplane.
Last week, engineers successfully tested the remote-controlled plane at a military base a couple hours from the research center. This week, the technology is being showcased at the Association for Unmanned Vehicles Systems International 2015 conference in Atlanta, Georgia.
The prototype, called the Greased Lightning or GL-10, remains in the design and testing phase, but after a series of 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."
Orginally, the idea was to build a hybrid plane, with a combination of diesel and electric engines. But a process of rapid prototyping -- in which several smaller versions were lost to hard landings -- resulted in the current all-electric plane.
The plane, as it stands, could serve a number or 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 confirm the GL-10's aerodynamic efficiency. But the latest test flights prove that at the very least that their model is sky-worthy.