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Tiny reconnaissance aircraft has industry in a flap

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July 2, 2009

AeroVironment awarded a Phase II contract extension for NAV program

AeroVironment awarded a Phase II contract extension for NAV program

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A tiny ‘nano air vehicle’ (NAV) that hovers by flapping its wings has impressed its developers – and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) - with AeroVironment receiving a Phase II contract extension worth $2.1 million for its NAV program.

Since its initial 20-second flight in December 2008, the tiny craft (weighing approx. 10g), which carries its own power supply, has progressed towards achieving AV's goals of a creating a machine that can hover for extended periods, fly at forward speeds up to 10 meters per second, withstand 2.5 meter per second wind gusts, operate inside buildings, and have up to a kilometer command and control range.

Remote control

The nano aircraft is capable of climbing and descending vertically, flying sideways left and right, as well as forward and backward, under remote control.

Matt Keennon, AV's project manager and principal investigator on the NAV project, said the Phase II effort will focus on optimizing the aircraft for longer flight endurance, establishing the transition capability from hover to forward flight and back, and reducing its size, weight, and acoustic signature. “All of these are distinct technical challenges in their own right that actually conflict with each other, making for an interesting and exciting path ahead," he said.

The Phase II, $2.1 million NAV extension contract is scheduled to continue through to mid-2010.

“The NAV program will push the limits of aerodynamic and power conversion efficiency, endurance, and maneuverability for very small, flapping wing air vehicle systems,” said Dr Todd Hylton, DARPA program manager. He said the NAV “will stretch our understanding of flight at these small sizes and require novel technology development.”

Dr Hylton added, “There are still many hurdles to achieve the vehicle we envisioned when the program was started, but we believe that the progress to date puts us on the path to such a vehicle.”

Indoor, outdoor operation

The NAV program, initiated by DARPA to develop a new class of air vehicles capable of indoor and outdoor operation, has wide-reaching military reconnaissance applications for urban environments.

"From the first day of the Phase I effort, we knew that our biggest challenge would be to develop a viable propulsion system, followed by the extreme challenge of creating a control system for such complex operation at such a small scale," said Keennon.

"Both systems were extremely difficult to conceive and required an intense combination of creative, scientific, and artistic problem-solving skills from several key team members. Our progress has been possible only because of the unique R&D environment at AV.”

AV’s NAV team also developed the Black Widow for DARPA, which evolved into the Wasp III that now helps protect the lives and enhance the operational effectiveness of front line warfighters.

Via AeroVironment .

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