EDWARDS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif., Oct. 10 — NASA has built and flown a remote-controlled plane powered from the ground by the invisible beam of a laser. In indoor flights conducted last month at a NASA center in Alabama, the plane flew lap after lap, gliding to a landing once the laser beam was turned off, the agency says.

WHILE IN FLIGHT, the laser tracked the 11-ounce (300-gram), 5-foot wingspan (1.5-meter wingspan) plane, striking the photovoltaic cells that powered the tiny motor that turned its lone propeller.

“The craft could keep flying as long as the energy source, in this case the laser beam, is uninterrupted,” said Robert Burdine, laser project manager for the tests, conducted at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala.

In earlier flights completed last year, engineers manually traced the path flown by the plane with a theatrical spotlight that provided the power needed to turn its propeller.

The remote-controlled planes don’t have to carry their own fuel or batteries, providing more room for scientific instruments or communications equipment.

Scientists envision flying the planes on long-duration flights to monitor the environment, including erupting volcanos. The planes also could be used for…

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