Credit: NASA Langley/David C. Bowman

For the most part, all of us are familiar with flight. Whether it is a rocket blasting into space, a commercial plane taking off to fly across the globe, or a helicopter heading out from a local hospital, in many ways, flying seems old hat.

But you've never seen flying like this.

This device is the latest creation from NASA Aeronautics. It is a battery-powered plane that (as you can clearly see) has a staggering 10 engines. This is Greased Lightning (or GL-10). Ultimately, it can take off like a helicopter, fly like an aircraft, and (best of all) not come crashing down into Earth in a broken wreck.

And recently, NASA proved that the device works as intended. The engineers behind the tech held demonstrations which successfully showed that the GL-10 can go from  hover mode to wing-borne flight in mid-air.

Prior models of the GL-10 had previously passed hover tests (which is where you fly like a helicopter), but that is relatively easy (obviously, as we have many helicopters that are different styles flying about). The real difficulty is transitioning from vertical flight to forward flight. Such feats are amazingly difficult, because they involve very complex flight aerodynamics.

However, the latest GL-10 passed with flying colors (pun totally intended).

In its final stages, engineers assert that the GL-10 could be used as a one to four person personal air vehicle; however, NASA is still in the early stages of testing the GL-10, so don't expect to be hopping about in one of these any time soon. At the present juncture, the researches, who are working at NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, are hoping to make a viable unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) that could be used for surveillance and transporting small materials.

As Bill Fredericks, a NASA aerospace engineer, notes, "We have a couple of options that this concept could be good for. It could be used for small package delivery or vertical take off and landing, long endurance surveillance for agriculture, mapping and other applications."

The GL-10 is currently in the design and testing phase, as smaller (and less costly) prototypes need to be developed before the team is ready to invest in a final, full-scale version of the GL-10. "We built 12 prototypes, starting with simple five-pound (2.3 kilograms) foam models and then 25-pound (11.3 kilograms), highly modified fiberglass hobby airplane kits all leading up to the 55-pound (24.9 kilograms), high quality, carbon fiber GL-10 built in our model shop by expert technicians, " said aerospace engineer David North.

The current version is a remotely piloted plane that has a 10-foot wingspan (3.05 meters). And as previously noted, it has 10 engines strung out across its body. There are 8 electric motors on the wings and 2 on the tail. This GL-10 weighs a maximum of 62 pounds (28.1 kilograms) at take off. Ultimately, the plan is to develop a 20-foot wingspan (6.1 meters) aircraft that will be powered by hybrid diesel/electric engines, but in the meantime, you can see the latest version in action in the video below.

"Each prototype helped us answer technical questions while keeping costs down. We did lose some of the early prototypes to 'hard landings' [the nice way of saying 'crash landing'] as we learned how to configure the flight control system. But we discovered something from each loss and were able to keep moving forward."

"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," said Fredericks. "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."

The other amazing advantage to the GL-10 is how quite it is. "The current prototype is quieter than a neighbor mowing the law with a gas-powered motor," Fredericks noted in the press release.

So to sum:

  • Highly controlled take off and landing in a small space
  • Greater flight efficiency
  • Much quieter than traditional devices.

All in all, pretty awesome.

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