NASA’s New 10-Engine Drone Launches Like A Helicopter And Flies Like A Plane

A close relative of VTOL aircraft, the drone is thought to be four times more efficient than a helo when in horizontal flight mode.

NASA is taking drone technology to the next level, developing a 10-engine craft that ascends into the air like a helicopter before flying like a plane, part of a bid to prove that drones can be far more efficient.

The GL-10 Greased Lightning is a battery operated drone prototype developed by a team at NASA’s Langley Research Center, according to Wired. A hybrid of an airplane and a helicopter, the drone employs 10 engines over its 10-foot wingspan in order to achieve both horizontal and vertical flight. The GL-10 drone is capable of changing its wing shape in midair, a feature that was successfully tested this month for the first time. The recent test saw the drone take off in a vertical configuration, before transitioning into a “wingborne” flight mode.

NASA’s new drone is a close relative of the V-22 Osprey, a famed VTOL (vertical takeoff and landing) aircraft designed and manufactured in the 1980s. Both employ a tilt-rotor design, with rotating engines propelling the aircraft in either a vertical or horizontal direction. Weighing 62 pounds, the current prototype drone follows 12 other versions, several of which were lost to “hard landings,” according to Popular Mechanics.

Though the GL-10 drone appears complicated to fly, its primary pilot, Zack Johns, noted that the four engines on either wing act as a single unit. In essence, this makes flying the drone similar to operating a three-engine aircraft.

Over the course of months of development, the NASA team has honed the design of the drone down from an original version that was set to have a 20-foot-wingspan and to employ both diesel and electric engines. The researchers hope to yet test a scaled-up version of the GL-10 and to prove that the drone is four times more efficient than a helicopter in cruise mode. According to aerospace engineer Bill Fredericks, a larger version of the drone could be used for a variety of purposes.

“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.”

NASA has proposed a number of uses for drone technology, as the Inquisitr previously reported, including missions to both Mars and Titan. Though it remains to be seen whether the GL-10 platform will be adapted for use on other planets, NASA’s team envisions the drone as a basis for a variety of models that will address specific missions.

[Image: NASA via Extreme Tech]