A rendering of the Stalker unmanned aircraft

A small unmanned aircraft used for military intelligence and reconnaissance missions has completed a series of outdoor test flights using power from a ground-based laser beam.

The tests, conducted during both day and night, mark the first-ever laser-powered outdoor flight of an unmanned aerial system, or UAS. Lockheed Martin and LaserMotive, which partnered on the test flights, announced the successful completion of the test flights today.

The aircraft, known as the Stalker, has been used since 2006 in the field, but beaming laser power from the ground to the aircraft is a new step. The companies had previously been able to power the Stalker via lasers for 48 hours of continuous flight in a wind tunnel.

LaserMotive, based south of Seattle, is working on a variety of applications for beaming power via lasers.

“We’re excited to work with Lockheed Martin to validate the ability of lasers to power Stalker in the field,” said Tom Nugent, president of LaserMotive in a news release. “Wireless power via laser is an important emerging technology, and I look forward to continuing to work together to further prove this technology in future experiments.”

Here’s the checklist of what the recent outdoor Stalker tests accomplished.

  • Demonstrated net positive power to Stalker in flight, at ranges up to 600 meters.
  • Proved that the laser did not damage the Stalker and that the addition of the laser receiver did not impact its normal flight operations or aerodynamics.
  • Operated multiple test flights in a range of desert conditions (day and night, high temperatures, and strong winds), demonstrating the ruggedness of the Stalker-mounted laser receiver power system.
  • The beam director tracked the receiver for long periods, with centimeter accuracy at 500 meters, despite turbulence and aircraft maneuvers.
  • Met all operational and safety requirements, including coordination with the Laser Clearinghouse and flight operations.

 

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