A drone being used by the United States Special Forces has the potential to remain airborne indefinitely if engineers can get the science right. Using lasers beamed from the ground to the unmanned aerial vehicle, the military could send a continuous source of power to the drone allowing it to fly without landing for refueling.
This is the “exciting possibility” demonstrated during an indoor test flight conducted by Lockheed Martin, the manufacturer of the Stalker drone. Lockheed Martin has already developed an electric version of the Stalker that has a two-hour battery life and this latest experiment is an attempt to perfect the technology that will recharge that battery from the ground while the drone remains in flight.
One article describes the frightening potential for such a program: "If proven in actual outdoor flights, [the laser] could give U.S. Special Forces a steady robot friend in the sky to watch for targets or approaching enemies."
"This test is one of the final steps in bringing laser-powered flight to the field," said Tom Nugent, president of LaserMotive, the inventor of the laser-based power delivery system used in the test. "By enabling in-flight recharging, this system will ultimately extend capabilities, improve endurance and enable new missions for electric aircraft."
The test flight of the perpetually deployable drone was conducted in a wind tunnel in order to simulate actual flying conditions. Remarkably successful, the test results demonstrated that by the end of the simulation, the Stalker drone actually had more stored energy than it did at the beginning of the flight.
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