If you saw The Dark Knight Rises, then you no doubt remember the very cool-looking Batwing aircraft in which Mr. Wayne flew over the streets of Gotham. Perhaps you thought that while it was pretty impressive, there was no way that anything like it could work in real life. Well hey, guess what? The Batwing-like AirMule VTOL (Vertical Takeoff and Landing) prototype aircraft recently demonstrated its ability to fly autonomously, bringing it one step closer to carrying out a full mission demo.

The AirMule is made by Israel's Tactical Robotics Ltd., and can be flown either by remote control or using its own autonomous control system – there's no onboard human pilot. Among other things, it's intended for the evacuation of wounded personnel in war zones while under anti-aircraft fire.

In its current form, it weighs 770 kg (1,700 lb), can carry a payload of up to 640 kg (1,400 lb), has a potential top speed of 180 km/h (112 mph), and can reach a maximum altitude of 12,000 ft (3,658 m).

What makes it particularly Batwingish, however, are the internal rotor blades contained within its body (as distinct from the shrouded props at the back). This design feature should allow it to land in tight or uneven areas where the open blades of a regular helicopter could be damaged by striking objects ... objects such as people. It can presently land and take-off within an area of 40 square meters (430.5 sq ft).

The internal rotor blades are reportedly also much quieter than those of a helicopter, giving the matte-black AirMule some added stealth.

In the latest tests, announced yesterday, it autonomously performed a vertical take-off, flew to the end of a runway, then turned around on the spot and flew back to its starting point. It maintained altitude using two laser altimeters (a radar altimeter is also on the way), while maintaining positioning via a combination of GPS, an inertial navigation system, and optical reference to markers on the ground.

Plans now call for "full mission demonstrations" next year, utilizing a second prototype that is currently under construction.

A video of the tests can be seen below.

Source: Tactical Robotics Ltd.