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The world record for a manned flight powered only by AA batteries was set on 16 July at an airport north of Tokyo. There isn’t much competition in that category, but the plane’s sponsor, Matsushita Electric Industrial Co., in Osaka, which made all 160 of the plane’s batteries, sure is proud of the accomplishment. That summer day the plane, which weighs just 54 kilograms without a pilot and has a wingspan of 31 meters, flew a distance of 391.4 meters. It managed to stay aloft for 59 seconds and reached an altitude of 5.2 meters. Matsushita asked students at the Tokyo Institute of Technology to design and build the plane to show off its new Panasonic brand Oxyride dry cell batteries. The company claims the battery has an edge on ordinary alkaline batteries for consumer electronics that drain energy quickly, such as digital cameras. The batteries use souped-up alkaline chemistry that includes finer-grained fillers and a new kind of nickel-based cathode.

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Economics Drives Ray-Gun Resurgence

Laser weapons, cheaper by the shot, should work well against drones and cruise missiles

4 min read
In an artist’s rendering, a truck is shown with five sets of wheels—two sets for the cab, the rest for the trailer—and a box on the top of the trailer, from which a red ray is projected on an angle, upward, ending in the silhouette of an airplane, which is being destroyed

Lockheed Martin's laser packs up to 300 kilowatts—enough to fry a drone or a plane.

Lockheed Martin

The technical challenge of missile defense has been compared with that of hitting a bullet with a bullet. Then there is the still tougher economic challenge of using an expensive interceptor to kill a cheaper target—like hitting a lead bullet with a golden one.

Maybe trouble and money could be saved by shooting down such targets with a laser. Once the system was designed, built, and paid for, the cost per shot would be low. Such considerations led planners at the Pentagon to seek a solution from Lockheed Martin, which has just delivered a 300-kilowatt laser to the U.S. Army. The new weapon combines the output of a large bundle of fiber lasers of varying frequencies to form a single beam of white light. This laser has been undergoing tests in the lab, and it should see its first field trials sometime in 2023. General Atomics, a military contractor in San Diego, is also developing a laser of this power for the Army based on what’s known as the distributed-gain design, which has a single aperture.

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