Shoot it with a laser and it flies longer
Lockheed Martin's Palmdale operations and LaserMotive from outside Seattle announced July 11 that they successfully used a laser fired from the ground to power up an unmanned aerial vehicle in use with Special Operations Forces.
The laser power system was used to recharge the battery of the Stalker UAV while in flight, increasing its flight time to more than 48 hours. Special Forces have deployed the mini-UAV since 2006 for ISR missions. Lockheed Martin has also demonstrated a fuel-cell-powered version of the Stalker with eight hours endurance.
"Laser power holds real promise in extending the capabilities of Stalker," said Tom Koonce, Lockheed Martin Skunk Works Stalker program manager, in a press release. "A ground-to-air recharging system like this allows us to provide practically unlimited flight endurance to extend and expand the mission profiles that the Stalker vehicle can fulfill."
The laser-powered demonstration was done indoors inside a wind tunnel with a Stalker air vehicle modified to incorporate LaserMotive's proprietary system that makes it possible to wirelessly transfer energy over long distances using laser light to provide a continual source of power to the UAS. At the conclusion of the flight test, the battery on the Stalker UAS had more energy stored than it did at the beginning of the test, according to Lockheed Martin.
The next step is to prove the technology in outdoor flight.
"This test is one of the final steps in bringing laser-powered flight to the field," said Tom Nugent, president of LaserMotive, a privately held company, in the press release. "By enabling in-flight recharging, this system will ultimately extend capabilities, improve endurance and enable new missions for electric aircraft. The next step in proving the reality of this technology is to demonstrate it outdoors in an extended flight of the Stalker."
Barry Rosenberg is editor-in-chief of Defense Systems. Follow him on Twitter: @BarryDefense.