Reinvention and flying cars: Your weekly reading list

Martin WB-57
NASA's Martin WB-57 with pilot and crew.

Problem-solving by evolution and human creativity often take odd turns. Some solutions combine disparate elements, like armor and eyes, or driving and flying. Others follow more linear paths by redesigning the same concept over and over with minor changes.

This week, follow the reincarnations of NASA's latest research aircraft; meet the algae-infused salamander; travel in style with some flying cars; and watch the first controlled landing of the Blue Origin rocket.

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Three high-flying birds soar together for the first time since the 1970s

Martin WB-57
One of NASA's WB-57 as viewed from a chase plane.

Capable of soaring above 60,000 feet, WB-57 planes fly for NASA to monitor hurricanes, study atmospheric effects of rocket launches and fulfill other high-altitude missions. NASA expanded the WB-57 fleet to three by completing the restoration and refit of a B-57, and celebrated by flying all three together at the Johnson Space Center.

Each of the WB-57s began life as a standard B-57 medium bomber, then were rebuilt during the 1960s into RB-57s with much larger wings and more powerful engines to fit a high-altitude reconnaissance role.

Retired by the military in the early 1970s, NASA modified a handful of the planes into WB-57s. Some of the RB-57s were mothballed in Arizona. The recently rebuilt WB-57 was in long-term storage from 1972 to 2013.

via Ars Technica

This animal has a suit of armor with hundreds of built-in eyes

Unlike other mollusks that rely on complete armor — like clams — or squishy dexterity — like octopi — the chiton has gone the path of panoptic armor. It combines a hard, armoring shell with a network of primitive eyes with calcium carbonate lenses, allowing it to watch the sea around it through its shell.

via The Atlantic

The long, weird history of the flying car

Ever since humans noticed birds in the sky, we've attempted to emulate them while bringing a bit of comfort, and style, to the skies.

Terrafugia flying car
Wings fold up in a demonstration of the Terrafugia "Flying Car" during the first day of press previews at the New York International Automobile Show in April 2012.
Stan Honda | AFP | Getty Images file 2012

via Popular Mechanics

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Green grow the salamanders

An algae-supercharged salamander provides a road map to previously unknown symbiosis between organisms.

via American Museum of Natural History

How Japanese honeybees cook a giant hornet

via Vox

The reusable space rocket is nearly here with Blue Origin's first successful landing

The New Shepard rocket launched, deployed its payload AND managed a controlled return to the landing site this month. (Some sales-related CGI fills the spaces outside the view of actual cameras.)

via The Verge

Bonus Firenado