NASA has been testing for a while now their prototype of an unmanned plane in Langley, Virginia. The aircraft, called Greased Lightning (GL-10), has a wing span of 3 feet and 10 electric motors that provide propulsion via propellers.
The real news is that this week, on the 5th of May, 2015, for the first time in the prototype’s life, the scientists tried an in flight transition from hovering above a fixed point like a helicopter, to a classic propeller winged plane flight layout.
What happens is on takeoff the wings are perpendicular to the ground with the propellers facing upward. After the aircraft is in the air, the entire wing assembly starts rotating into a horizontal position gradually. A slight rotation provides forward motion and a full 90 degree turn of the wings would bring them parallel to the ground allowing the plane to reach its top speed.
Although this plane could be the first unmanned VTOL aircraft, NASA had many designs at their disposal to draw inspiration from. In fact, their prototype closely resembles a V-22 Osprey airplane that has been produced by Bell and Boeing since May 1988. That plane is a tilt rotor military aircraft, meaning the wings were fixed in the same position and only the engine body and the propeller would turn from a vertical to a horizontal position. Aside from being able to take off and land vertically, it is also capable of a short take off and landing (STOL), with the added benefit that in that case the payload could be increased over the VTOL limits.
Just like the veteran V-22 Osprey, the Greased Lightning has a lot of potential and versatility and NASA knows this as Bill Fredericks, an engineer on the project, has stated. The plane is perfect for prolonged surveillance for agricultural or security purposes, terrain mapping and even package drops in tight spots.
The prototype will be shown later this week at the AUVSI’s Unmanned Systems 2015 in Atlanta, Georgia. The trade show will take place between 5th and 7th of May.
Image Source: cnet