The movie "Star Wars" wowed audiences with its use of holograms -- 3-D impressions that were projected into thin air so that a person's animated image seemed to materialize from nowhere.
For years such innovation was only the stuff of dreams.
A Flock of Robots: Flying High Using Automation
Learning how robots talk to each other can translate to helping the Air Force gather data through its manned and unmanned aircraft. So engineers at the Air Force Research Laboratory in Dayton, Ohio, are teaching teams of robots to communicate by creating virtual robot environments. The robots are programmed to communicate using radio waves -- just like a computer wireless network at home.
Amazing Aegis BMD
An enemy blasts a deadly missile toward a U.S. target. The missile leaves the Earth's atmosphere -- and within minutes it is tracked and destroyed by another missile launched via a powerful shipboard system called Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense.
Beam Me Up
Air Force scientists work on the technology of science fiction.
Lasers were just the stuff of science fiction not long ago, but can now be found all around us in everyday life, such as supermarket bar code scanners and CD and DVD players.
Not as common are the lasers that still fit the sci-fi genre. One place they can be found, though, is the Air Force Laser Effects Lab in Albuquerque, New Mexico. There scientists and engineers work with all types of lasers, including big hulking ones that can shoot down high-speed missiles.
Biofuel: Turning T-Shirts and Table Scraps into Jet Fuel
With biofuels, research chemists at China Lake's Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division are unlocking energy stored in plants to create fuel for the 21st century. Rather than using sugar-rich crops such as corn, these scientists use tougher conversion targets.
“Sugar's really a food source and we don't want to use that,” says Benjamin Harvey, a Navy research chemist. “Better are things made of cellulose, like newspapers, towels, shirts, or even bananas.”
Biothreats: Patrolling for Enemy Bugs to Keep Americans Safe
Anthrax, E. coli, salmonella -- all dangerous organisms that can cause illness. Many are contracted naturally -- through food or soil -- but in the wrong hands, such pathogens could be used to harm people.
Biologists at the Air Force research lab in San Antonio are on the lookout for these biothreats. Using a powerful process called PCR -- polymerase chain reaction -- they can copy strands of DNA and identify pathogens anywhere in the world. A process that used to take 48 hours has been reduced to just two.
RADAR -- which stands for radio detection and ranging -- is a technique that's used all around us in everyday life. It can determine the presence and the velocity of an object such as an airplane or even a person.
Radar works via a transmitter that shoots a pulse of electromagnetic energy. The pulse travels to a target, bounces off, and then the radar listens for the echo off that target.
Brainwaves: Reading Brain Waves to Keep Pilots Sharp
Flying is second nature for today's highly skilled Air Force pilots. But when challenges arise, these aviators need to stay focused.
Helping out are researchers at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. By placing pilots in flight simulators and monitoring their brain waves, the scientists are designing systems that can assist in crunch time.