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Old 08-30-2004, 09:24 AM   #1
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Plane fly by light!

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Airplane Flies by Light
Irene Mona Klotz, Discovery News

Oct. 23, 2003 — Inside a quiet hangar at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center, a remote-controlled airplane slowly circles 60 feet off the ground. With a wingspan of about 4-1/2 feet, a weight of 11 ounces and a top speed of 8 miles per hour, the demonstration seems more a show of a cool-toy than cutting-edge technology.

Yet this little balsa wood and Mylar craft could become the model for a fleet of vessels in perpetual flight, designed to provide low-cost, reliable communications, surveillance systems and atmospheric monitors. Rather than fuel, these aircraft would be powered by light.

"As long as you provide energy, they will fly," said Robert Burdine, manager of the Laser Power Beaming Project, a joint program of the Marshall Space Flight and NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center in California which unveiled its test aircraft earlier this month.

During the demonstration, an infrared laser beam — invisible to the human eye — was aimed at the model plane, which was outfitted with a panel of photovoltaic cells and an electric motor wired to the propeller. After the craft was released from a launching platform, the laser beam was pointed at the airplane panels, causing the propeller to spin and propel the craft around the building. When the laser beam was turned off, the airplane glided to a landing.

It was the first known flight of an airplane powered only by the energy of laser light. "It really is a ground-breaking development for aviation," Burdine said.

Researchers envision a day when multiple laser sources will be used to power high-altitude unmanned aircraft indefinitely. These planes and balloons could be used to position equipment and scientific gear 60,000 to 70,000 feet off the ground for long periods of time.

Such systems could be used to relay cell phone calls and provide cable television or Internet connections. Because they fly in the atmosphere and do not pollute the air with their emissions, beam-powered planes would be ideal for collecting atmospheric samples.

"We'd be able to conduct chemical surveys without contaminating the local environment," Burdine said.

David Bushman, who heads project operations at Dryden, where the plane was designed and built, said he sees laser power supplementing solar-powered aircraft, which can collect and convert sunlight for energy by day and laser beams by night.

"We wanted to do a demonstration to show that you could fly an airplane with energy directed from the ground," Bushman said.

The plane was flown indoors to prevent wind and weather from affecting the flight. Additional tests outdoors are under consideration, he said.

The flight followed tests at Dryden last year that used a theatrical spotlight, rather than a laser, to power the craft. Spotlights, however, cannot focus energy over long distances, making them impractical as a power source for airplanes.
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Old 08-30-2004, 11:07 AM   #2
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very cool!!
However, take out the laser, down comes the plane...hmm terrorist...
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Old 08-31-2004, 07:24 AM   #3
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I think they are talking unlimited power source
This particullar model can glide without it. I'm sure this would be handy to power one of their craft into deep space..I'm just wondering how cool the potential could be..
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