An engineering team at NASA’s Langley Research Center is developing an amazing helicopter plane hybrid. Vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) aircraft have been known for sometime, but past efforts at developing aircraft that can hovering fly fast have met with mixed results. NASA’s latest VTOL effort, however, seems to have ironed out a lot of the problems and experts say it offers great promise for the future.

NASA's New VTOL Helicopter Plane Passes Critical Test Flight

Details on NASA’s new VTOL helicopter plane

The GL-10 Greased Lightning is a new battery-powered drone with a ten-foot wingspan that can change configuration in midair to fly either horizontally or vertically. NASA announced recently that the craft took off vertically and, for the first time, successfully rotated its wings to transition from “helicopter” mode to standard “wingborne” during flight. Experts say the new helicopter plane passed the critical test flight with flying colors.

Of interest, the Greased Lightning program is an offshoot of the V-22 Osprey, the VTOL aircraft first built two decades ago for the U.S. Air Force and Marines. The engines are designed to rotate to propel the aircraft either up and down (like a helicopter), or forward at a higher speed (like a propeller-driven plane). Military experts note the Osprey can take off and land from the deck of a carrier or from a field, and does not require a runway. The large-capacity aircraft will carry 32 troops or 20,000 pounds of cargo up to 2,200 miles.

The GL-10 is smaller and has a different design than the Osprey. It features four motors on each wing, with two more on the tail. Pilots control the new helicopter plane like a standard triple-engined aircraft, using three separate throttle controls: two for the engines on each wing, and one for the tail.

“It could be used for small package delivery … long endurance surveillance for agriculture, mapping and other applications,” commented Bill Fredericks, a NASA aerospace engineer. The current version is the 12th prototype. A few early versions were destroyed in crash landings as the engineers worked on flight controls, but everyone is very excited about how well the current drone prototype is performing.

Additional flight tests will confirm the aerodynamicness and climbing, diving and landing abilities of the new VTOL. Initial calculations suggest the craft is four times more aerodynamically efficient in cruise mode than as a helicopter.