NASA’s Langley Research Center has been in the process of developing a drone that looks to combine the best qualities of fixed-wing airplanes and rotary-wing helicopters. With a goal of building an aircraft with considerable speed, cargo capability, excellent maneuverability, and no need for large runways, NASA has developed a new drone prototype, the GL-10 Greased Lightning.
The GL-10 Greased Lightning is a battery-powered, ten-engine, prototype drone that has a ten-foot wingspan. The drone closes the gap between airplanes and helicopters as it is able to change its shape in midair to fly vertically or horizontally. NASA has successfully been able to launch the drone with a vertical takeoff and a rotation of its wings to transition from “helicopter” mode to “wingborne” flight.
The GL-10 is based off the V-22 Osprey which is an Air Force & Marines vertical takeoff and landing aircraft that was developed in the 1980s. As vertical takeoff and landing aircraft capabilities have been shown to be useful on large aircrafts, it is natural for manufacturers to strive for adding this technology onto smaller aircrafts.
The GL-10 is NASA’s planned solution as it utilizes four motors on each wing that are simultaneously controlled and two additional motors on the tail that are also simultaneously controlled. The drone is controlled similarly to a standard triple-engine aircraft such as the MD-11 in which there are three separate throttle controls, one for the tail and two for the engines on each wing. As its development continues, the Greased Lightning will continue to be tested on its aerodynamic efficiency.
NASA believes that due to the drone’s wings and forward facing props, it is four times more aerodynamically efficient in cruse mode compared to a helicopter. If deemed a project that can be put into production, NASA hopes the drone can be used for small package delivery, long endurance surveillance, mapping, and other applications.
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