Pentagon working on hummingbird-sized spy drones
A new Pentagon project aims to produce unmanned nano aerial vehicles that can be launched by soldiers in crowded urban areas to spy on enemy positions.
Soldiers fighting future battles in crowded urban areas will be able to launch hummingbird-sized unmanned nano aerial vehicles — or NAVs – capable of carrying sophisticated sensors and flying through open windows in buildings to report back on enemy positions.Skip to next paragraph
In Pictures Drones: America's unmanned Predators
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
A new project partly funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) called the Nano Aerial Vehicle (NAV) program aims to develop an extremely small, ultra-lightweight aerial vehicle for urban military missions that can fly both indoors and outdoors and that is capable of climbing and descending vertically as well as flying sideways left and right.
DARPA says the NAV program pushes the limits of aerodynamic and power conversion efficiency, endurance and maneuverability for very small air vehicle systems.
The design the agency green lighted for further development actually will look and fly much like a hummingbird. The winning concept, developed by AeroVironment, is called Nano Scout (Nano Sensor Covert Observer in Urban Terrain). It is a remote-controlled, battery powered NAV with two flapping wings that weighs about two grams (about as heavy as two nickels) and is just slightly longer than three inches.
Lots of competition
The Scout is designed to fly forward at speeds of up to 20 mph, slow down to one mph for precision navigation inside buildings, withstand five mph wind gusts, operate inside buildings and have a range of over one-half mile.
An early prototype tested by the company has already reached a technical milestone by achieving a hovering flight equal to that of a two-wing flapping wing aircraft while carrying its own energy source and using only the flapping wings for propulsion. A working prototype, scheduled for demonstration to DARPA when the second phase of the NAV program ends this summer, will have a flight endurance of 11 to 20 minutes.
But DARPA and AeroVironment aren’t the only players with a wing in the NAV game. Though its monocoptor design that is shaped like a maple leaf was passed over for the second phase of the DARPA program, Lockheed Martin Skunk Works’ Advanced Development Programs is continuing its exploration of NAVs on its own dime with the Samurai program.
The company has built two larger mono-wing vehicles as part of the program, a 30-inch flyer and a 12-inch version that is small enough to fit into a backpack and fly through an open window to enter a building. The Samurai design, says Kingsley Fregene, principal investigator for the program, is inherently stable and has few moving parts, which makes it a robust, aerodynamically clean airframe. Unlike more conventional designs, the entire aircraft rotates.