Wing-Morphing Micro Air Vehicles

Micro Air Vehicles (MAVs) are being equipped with shape-changing wings to allow them to perform remarkable bird-like manuevers. Prototypes have been created by a research team lead by Rick Lind, assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at the University of Florida.


(From Wing Morphing MAV (video))

University of Florida engineers have built prototypes with wingspans as small as six inches. These MAVs are able to fly effectively in challenging environments like cities - just like their natural counterparts.

"If you fly in the urban canyon, through alleys, around parking garages and between buildings, you need to do sharp turns, spins and dives," said Lind. "That means you need to change the shape of the aircraft during flight."

Large drones like the Predator fly high above cities in Iraq, providing surveillance (and some offensive) capabilities. Micro air vehicles would be used to provide surveillance up close, sticking tight to their targets.


(From Wing Morphing MAV (video))

Impressed by seagulls’ ability to hover, dive and climb rapidly, doctoral student Mujahid Abdulrahim photographed the gulls close-up during flight. Gulls’ wings flex at both their shoulder and elbow joints as they alter flight patterns.


(From Seagull Wing Movement [earlier paper])

With the wings imitating the gulls’ elbow in the down position, the plane loses stability but becomes highly maneuverable. With the wings in the elbow straight position, it becomes a good glider. Elbows up, it’s highly controllable and easy to land.

Motors can transform the wings from the down to the up position in flight in 12 seconds, "fast enough to use in a city landscape," Abdelrahim said.

The bird-like prototypes are described as being "strikingly maneuverable," capable of completing three, 360-degree rolls in one second. (An F-16 fighter jet can manage at least one roll per second, but three rolls would produce excessive gravity force, killing the pilot). The UF micro air vehicles are so agile they appear out of control at times, and require considerable talent by the remote control pilot.

In his 1964 novel The Star King, Jack Vance wrote about tiny devices called stick-tights:

Suthiro knit his furry brown eyebrows in puzzlement, glanced for the most fleeting instant upward.

Gersen continued, "There is a stick-tight watching us, although I have not yet located it. Its microphone probably registers our conversation...
(Read more about Vance's stick-tights)

In the novel, stick-tights come in a variety of models, from the servo-optical (a spy cell supported by rotary wings, remotely guided by an operator) to the Culp spy master - a semi-intelligent bird-like creature trained to follow subjects of interest.

Take a look at two other tiny flying machines - the uFR-II Micro Flying Robot and Robotic Bird. Read more about Airborne drones, mimicking gulls, alter wing shape for agility.

Scroll down for more stories in the same category. (Story submitted 8/24/2005)

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