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By Devin Coldewey

NASA researchers took a rather unique prototype aircraft for a spin last week: Greased Lightning, a 10-engine electric plane with rotating wings that allow it to take off and land like a helicopter. Vertical take-off and landing aircraft, or VTOL, are not a new idea, but this particular configuration sure is. The GL-10 has four engines on each wing and one on each tip of its rear stabilizer — that's much different from the large, tilting rotors of the V-22 Osprey or the rotating jets on a Harrier.

The GL-10, with its 10-foot wingspan, was never meant to be large. Instead, it's envisioned as fulfilling a drone-like role or perhaps carrying one to four people in a scaled-up future model. And because it's battery-powered, it's quiet. "The current prototype is quieter than a neighbor mowing the lawn with a gas-powered motor," said Bill Fredericks, aerospace engineer at NASA's Langley Research Center, in a news release describing the project.

The latest test flight showed the GL-10 successfully transitioning between hover mode, with the wings vertical, to flight mode, in which they face forward like ordinary aircraft. The team will be showing off Greased Lightning at the Association for Unmanned Vehicles Systems International 2015 conference in Atlanta later this week.

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—Devin Coldewey