Inflatables Catch Some Air

Not only are this plane’s wings made of plastic, they inflate like a balloon . . . in midflight. No, it’s not some daredevil stunt; it’s a NASA plane that may someday be dropped from spacecraft orbiting other planets. During a successful flight earlier this year, a nitrogen canister inflated the I2000’s 32-inch-long wings in a third of a second. It marked the first time an aircraft’s wings have ever been inflated in flight.
http://www.popsci.com/bown/aviation_51_wing.html
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King of the High Society

The world altitude record for nonrocket-powered aircraft, formerly held by the Air Force’s mighty SR-71 Blackbird, was shattered this summer by a flying wing. The unmanned Helios aircraft, made up of 14 propellers and 65,000 solar cells, averaged 25 miles an hour as it climbed 96,500 feet over the Hawaiian islands, three times the cruising altitude of a commercial airliner and 10,000 feet past the previous record. Next, engineers are planning to equip it with a fuel cell, allowing for multiday flights above 50,000 feet. http://www.popsci.com/bown/aviation_53_helios.html
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Unmanned Combat Air Vehicles

Boeing’s X-45 Unmanned Combat Air Vehicle (UCAV) is the first of its type — a fighter plane without a pilot. Military experts say UCAVs will play a key role in future warfare, because they are smaller, lighter, cheaper, and more agile than piloted aircraft. Unmanned combat planes are envisioned as a “first day of the war” strike force capable of attacking enemy air defenses without risking pilots’ lives. Boeing’s UCAV, sponsored by DARPA and the Air Force, underwent ground tests this year and may have begun flight tests by the time you read this. A Navy UCAV designed by Northrop Grumman will soon follow. UCAVs could enter service as early as 2010.
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