Future (Pilotless) Flight

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U.S. Navy To Test Flying Saucer...

It may sound like something from Mars, but this pilotless flying saucer is actually Russian and it has caught the eye of the U.S. Navy. The pita-shaped Ekip drone could be flitting around the Navy's Patuxent River test facility by 2007 thanks to a congressman who saw a prototype on a tour of Russian aviation facilities last year. Developed by Saratov Aviation, the craft takes off and lands on a cushion of air, like a hovercraft, and needs less than 500 feet of runway. The wheel-less drone would be propelled by "high-economy bypass turbojet engines" and use "auxiliary high-economy dual generator turboshaft engines ... for operation of air-cushion landing gear and boundary layer control." The shape lends itself to lower structural weight and loading while offering higher load-carrying capability. Rep. Curt Weldon (R-Penn.) was sufficiently impressed that he passed the information along to the military, and the Navy's Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) has agreed to help develop the flying prototype and test it at Pax River. Of course, non-alien attempts at flying saucers have been tried before, with limited success, because the odd shape creates aerodynamic headaches. Saratov engineers have reportedly solved that by generating a particular sort of vacuum around the craft that keeps air moving in the right directions. Although the initial prototype will weigh only 500 pounds, Saratov claims to have built a 12-ton model that flew well. (Feel free to send pictures.) "But if we can make it work, it'll allow for new, radical concepts in aircraft design," said NAVAIR's director of research and engineering, Dr. John Fischer. Because of the commodious dimensions of the saucer shape, Fischer sees full-scale models being used as heavy cargo carriers, airlifting tanks and other bulky objects to the battlefield where the long flat runways needed by cargo planes can be in short supply.