AeroVironment (AV) has achieved controlled precision hovering and flight of a flapping-wing aircraft that carries its own energy source and uses only the wings for propulsion and control.
The milestone was part of the Phase II contract awarded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to AV to design and build a flying prototype hummingbird-like aircraft for the Nano Air Vehicle (NAV) programme.
Dr Todd Hylton, NAV programme manager at DARPA, said: ‘The success of the NAV programme paves the way for a new generation of aircraft with the agility and appearance of small birds.’
The final concept demonstrator is called the Nano Hummingbird and is said to be capable of climbing and descending vertically, flying sideways left and right, flying forward and backward, as well as rotating clockwise and counter-clockwise, under remote control and carrying a video camera.
During demonstration, the Nano Hummingbird flew in and out of a building through a normal-size doorway.
The hand-made prototype aircraft has a wingspan of 16cm and a total flying weight of 19g. This includes all the systems required for flight, batteries, motors, communications systems and video camera.
AeroVironment said the aircraft can be fitted with a removable body fairing, which is shaped to have the appearance of a real hummingbird. The aircraft is larger and heavier than an average hummingbird, but is smaller and lighter than the largest hummingbird currently found in nature.
The way birds change the shape of their wings during flight is inspiring smaller aircraft that are more agile, efficient and stealthy. Click here to read more.