I really should spend some of the energy I expend reading webcomics and watching Law & Order reruns on keeping up with the coolness of experimental aviation. Here are a few I've been collecting to share with you, none of which I found out about as soon as I should have, so don't expect any breaking news.
The Goodyear Inflatoplane was built long before I was born, but really that is the sort of thing that legend should keep alive in everyone's hearts, even though the project is long gone. I love inflatable stuff. Inflatable Christmas decorations, punching bags, air mattresses, pool toys, you name it. And "Inflatoplane" is the best name. They really knew how to name things back then. The airplane I learned to fly in was designed in the same age of naming, and its features includes omnivision, paralift and land-o-matic.
Fortunately the fifties named inventions that were yet to be invented, so that this is still called a rocket pack or a jetpack or a rocket belt. It's a bit like the personal videophone though, into the proof of concept phase, but still not really there. Another model leaves the fuel on the ground, and removes dangerous exhaust from the vicinity of the user, allowing for much more flight time, but restricting the flight path to over relatively calm water.
This experimental miniature airplane uses the same flight techniques as the birds I love to watch, controlling their momentum with such precise timing that they come to a full-stall landing on a single point. It's awesome to watch them adjusting everything to make that landing. They mess up sometimes, but because their wingtips and tail sections are made of feathers, they don't need to report for major repairs or inspections when they do. Birds land on power lines because they are available and away from predators, so it's doubly cool that the MAV is using the power line as a food source, actually poaching the current to recharge its batteries.
And finally, last month the Solar Impulse has completed a flight of over twenty-six hours (yes, through the night and into the next day) entirely on solar power. The team is planning to build an even more efficient solar-powered airplane and do a round the world trip. I'm embarrassed that I didn't know about this the same day it happened, because it's the coolest thing ever. I'd love to fly a solar or human-powered aircraft. I should really get my glider licence. Started it once, but then I moved for a job, to somewhere there weren't gliders.