Midair refueling of manned aircraft currently calls for the dispatching of a huge tanker plane and a delicate midair link-up between two moving aircraft. The unmanned aerial vehicles of the future may have a much easier time staying aloft for days at a time--indefinitely, really--via laser refueling systems that beam energy from the ground to aircraft on the wing. Lockheed Martin's Stalker Unmanned Aerial System recently demonstrated the potential of these emerging laser power systems by maintaining continuous operation for 48 straight hours.
An unmanned Pelican quadrocopter recently broke the endurance record for laser-powered hovering after spending more than 12 hours airborne. That crushes the previous record of six hours of laser-beam-powered flight.
A laser-obsessed entrepreneur whose mosquito-zapping project demoed at the TED 2010 conference has bigger plans for energy beams. Tom Nugent envisions using lasers to deliver energy over long distances -- whether that means juicing up an aerial drone's batteries or beaming solar space power down from orbital satellites, according to Xconomy.