Military aircraft have hooked up to flying tankers to refuel in midair for decades — an inspiration for the idea of replacing the electric airplane’s batteries in midair. In this case, drones turned into flying batteries would tether and dock with the Long-ESA plane to deliver a fresh charge.
Dropping used batteries in midflight also represents a way to save on power by shedding dead weight. The Long-ESA team has designed a way for battery packs to parachute from the plane and use GPS guidance to reach collection stations below.
A successful 2014 flight could do more than shatter some world records. The U.S. military could possibly find some interest in the idea of stretching out the flight times for electric drones.
Switching batteries in mid-air is also analogous to Formula one and NASCAR racing cars making quick pitstops to swap out parts.
This prototype represents the first step toward an electric plane that could fly across the Atlantic. CREDIT: Flight of the Century
The delivery of fresh batteries seems to be mainly relevant to military and other specialized missions. It would not be practical for an overall transportation infrastructure unless batteries became very, very inexpensive and the only problem was the slowness of recharge times. Power beaming with power drawn from the grid seems to be a better solution.