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Aircraft

The Concorde may be just a memory, but some aircraft manufacturers still see supersonic aircraft as the future of civilian aviation. To allow for widespread supersonic flight over populated areas without shattering windows and frightening chickens, electronics firm Rockwell Collins has been awarded a two-year NASA contract to develop a 3D cockpit display to help pilots of future supersonic aircraft to mitigate or eliminate sonic booms.

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Quadcopters have shot to fame on the back of their remarkable agility and versatility, but not everybody is bowing at the altar of four-rotored supremacy. In a marked departure from popular drone design, US startup Ascent Aerosystems has developed a two-prop aerial vehicle with a HD-quality camera and cylindrical form that's designed to be conveniently slid into a backpack when you're headed outdoors.

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A couple of years ago, UK-based product designer Witek Mielniczek turned to Kickstarter to fund B – a combination radio-controlled car and quadcopter. Its ability to both fly through the air and drive along the ground was certainly intriguing, although its ability to traverse rough terrain wasn't necessarily phenomenal. That's why he's now created B-Unstoppable, which swaps wheels for neoprene tank-like treads.

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Micro-drones may be versatile in the air, but carry one in your pocket or bag and you run the risk of damaging its propellers. While carry cases are available for a number of models, some are catering to the micro-drone class with arms that fold away for safe storage. Two Swiss roboticists are the latest to take this approach, with a palm-sized quadcopter that spreads its wings and springs to life in less than a second.

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Switzerland has joined an elite club with its first homegrown business jet taking to the air for the first time. With the call sign of HB-VXA, the twin-engine prototype Pilatus Aircraft PC-24 Super Versatile Jet made its maiden flight last week, traveling from Buochs Airport in a 55-minute journey across central Switzerland to Brünig.

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When people suggest possible uses for electric multicopter drones, it frequently seems like they're forgetting something – presently, most such aircraft can only fly for a maximum of around 25 minutes per battery charge. Horizon Energy Systems, however, is developing a quadcopter that should do a lot better. Known as the Hycopter, the fuel cell-powered drone is hoped to be capable of 4-hour flight times once completed.

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Long-haul flights can a tedious and uncomfortable experience. If you're going to be stuck on plane for the best part of 12 hours or more, though, a touch of luxury may go some way to improving the experience. New VIP cabin designs from Mercedes-Benz Style and Lufthansa would offer just that.

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Keeping track of crop health is an overwhelmingly tough ask for farmers, and things are only likely to get tougher with predictions of huge yield drop-offs in the coming decades. With a freshly-inked US$100,000 cheque tucked under its arm courtesy of MIT, startup RaptorMaps plans to get crop-mapping drones into the air this summer to better track their health and give farmers' harvests a boost.

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It's one thing to 3D-print something as advanced as a jet engine, but it's another to fuel it up and push the start button. That's the step that GE Aviation took when it recently fired up a simple jet engine made entirely of 3D-printed parts in a test stand normally reserved for commercial jet power plants.

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