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Laser System Keeps UAV in Air for 48 Hours

by Mike Hoffman on July 18, 2012

Lockheed Martin and LaserMotive have developed a laser system that can recharge an unmanned aerial vehicle in flight potentially keeping them in the sky for indefinite periods.

Engineers with the company tested the system in its Stalker UAV in an indoor test in which the drone flew for 48 hours. The drone can recharge its 2-hour battery in flight by linking up with a laser system being beamed from the ground.

“This test is one of the final steps in bringing laser-powered flight to the field,” said Tom Nugent, president of LaserMotive. “By enabling in-flight recharging, this system will ultimately extend capabilities, improve endurance and enable new missions for electric aircraft.”

This system poses all sorts of potential for ground commanders who have constantly demanded long endurance UAVs for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions. Special forces units could especially benefit from a small, long endurance UAV when they are cut off from traditional air power.

The most recent test was done in a wind tunnel, but LaserMotive and Lockheed Martin officials are confident they can soon display Stalker’s capabilities in an outdoor demonstration.

Stalker can fly up to 15,000 feet and carry a payload of three pounds. The smallish UAV has a wingspan of 10 feet and maximum speed of 50 miles per hour. Soldiers can launch the Stalker by hand.

“We’re pleased with the results of this test,” said Tom Koonce, the Stalker program manager of Lockheed Martin Skunk Works. “Laser power holds real promise in extending the capabilities of Stalker.”

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