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NASA's 10-engine electric UAV now flies as well as it hovers

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NASA's ten-engine UAV, dubbed the Greased Lightning (GL-10), recently showed off a slick new trick in the skies over Hampton, Virginia. The drone, which is under development by a team at the Langley Research Center, had already passed its initial hovering tests last August; but that was the easy part. As the long and miserable development of the V-22 Osprey has shown, the real challenge is switching over from hover mode to conventional forward flight without the vehicle falling out of the sky. But on Thursday, NASA's battery-powered tilt-rotor aircraft successfully did just that.

"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," aerospace engineer Bill Fredericks said in a statement. "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."

Should the GL-10 prove its aerodynamic ability, the Langley team hopes to spin the technology off into a number of commercial applications including small package delivery (put your hand down, Amazon) or industrial/agricultural surveillance. And as Fredericks continued, "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."

[Image credits: NASA Langley/David C. Bowman and Gary Banziger]

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