Bleeding edge. Pushing the envelope. Its the 99th percentile stuff that's exciting. World's biggest, heaviest, fastest and highest make headlines and make us smile. Especially when we think about how much work was behind the headlines.
Burt Rutan's Scaled Composites continues to amaze us with an imaginative and ambitious combination of brains, experience and bravery that leads to record setting feats of aeronautical magic. They don't just expand the envelope, they give it another dimension.
Less well known is AeroVironment whose business is developing and building Unmanned Aerial Vehicles "focused on the design, development and production of high-efficiency, unmanned aircraft for communications relay, remote sensing, and research applications."
Since 1977 when the Gossamer Condor was awarded the Kremer prize for the first controlled (try flying an airplane while pedaling at ten tenths inside a mylar cocoon) human-powered flight, AeroVironment has been building some pretty exciting stuff. Today, they announced completion of series of tests of Global Observer; a hydrogen powered Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) designed to loiter for a week above 65,000 feet with a 1,000 pound payload.
Pictured above is a remotely piloted flying pterodactyl that Paul MacCready (founder of AeroVironment) created for the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. They flew it on the mall in front of the museum and it was featured in an IMAX film.
While many of their projects are small enough to be kept in a file cabinet, I can think of few better ways to spend an afternoon than wandering through AeroVironment's hangar.