May 29, 2008 Unmanned aerial vehicles represent one emerging technology that has delivered as promised over the last decade, achieving critical relevance in battlefields situations where they can perform both reconnaissance and combat roles without putting humans in the the line of fire. In addition to the rapid growth and development that has occurred in relation to larger, weapons capable craft, smaller systems have also proved their worth, and the latest announcement from AeroVironment (AV) is further evidence that this sector will continue to flourish. The company which has already established unmanned micro air vehicle (MAV) programs - including the Raven and Wasp III - has now received funding to continue development of an even smaller scale platform dubbed the Nano Air Vehicle (NAV).
The USD$636,000 Phase II contract awarded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) will see a flying prototype of a 10 gram, three-inch flapping-wing air vehicle system demonstrated in six months. It follows the Phase I, $1.7 million program in which AV completed a preliminary design review for the Nano Air Vehicle (NAV) program.
Following a successful demonstration, DARPA has the option to extend the program for an additional 18 months which could increase the Phase II contract value.
The NAV program envisages a new class of air vehicles capable of indoor and outdoor operations, employing biological mimicry at an extremely small scale and providing new military reconnaissance capabilities in urban environments.
The tiny NAV will also be able to carry a payload of up to 2 grams.
AV's hand-launched unmanned aerial systems have been used extensively by U.S. armed forces use for missions such as base security, route reconnaissance, mission planning, battle damage assessment and force protection. Ravens were flown for approximately 150,000 combat hours in 2007. AV has delivered over 9,000 small unmanned aircraft to date, including Raven, Wasp and Puma.