Atomic Wings Popular Mechanics

After more than six decades of research, the first atom-powered airplane is cleared for takeoff. Although details of the project remain classified, a description of this remarkable aircraft has begun to emerge from technical conferences and declassified engineering studies. The plane will be both familiar and unique. Familiar in that it will resemble a Northrop Grumman Global Hawk, the bulbous-nosed unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) that the U.S. Air Force has used to track enemy movements in Afghanistan and Iraq. Unique because its nuclear reactor is unlike any other. Rather than split heavy elements or fuse light atoms–as in fission and fusion reactors–it will use what is known as a triggered isomer reaction. If this new powerplant, called a quantum nucleonic reactor, performs as scientists expect, its effect on the aircraft industry may prove as revolutionary as the introduction of the jet engine.