October 11, 2003 A team of NASA researchers has developed and demonstrated a ground-breaking small-scale aircraft that flies on laser power. Rather than carrying fuel on-board, the aircraft is powered entirely by an invisible, ground-based laser that tracks the aircraft in flight and delivers energy to a special panel of photovoltaic cells on the plane that in turn drive the propeller.

Similar demonstration flights were made in 2002 using a theatrical searchlight as the power source, but the recent flights are the first known demonstration of an aircraft flying totally powered by a ground-based laser according to NASA's recent press statement: "The craft could keep flying as long as the energy source, in this case the laser beam, is uninterrupted," said Robert Burdine, Marshall's laser project manager for the test. "This is the first time that we know of that a plane has been powered only by the energy of laser light. It really is a groundbreaking development for aviation.

"The laser-power breakthrough could provide a means to keep telecommunications or remote sensing aircraft aloft indefinitely as well as having enormous implications for space travel.

Photos: Tom Tschida, NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center

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