Evidence of flight-testing of a long-rumoured robotic insect-like surveillance micro unmanned air vehicle (UAV) developed by the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) has been demonstrated exclusively to Flight.
Developed during the 1970s, the CIA has displayed a mock-up of the micro UAV in its museum at its headquarters in Langley, Virginia since 2003. However until now no media organisation has been given access to the material that proved that the artificial dragonfly had been flight tested.
Intelligence agencies have for decades developed surveillance equipment that look like everyday items, for example cameras that look like cigarette lighters. In the 1970s the CIA was interested in the dragonfly concept as a small unmanned surveillance device.
Flight cannot reveal exactly what materials have been seen, but can confirm the four-winged robotic insect achieved sustained flight. Some of the dragonfly material had been altered to make it harder to recognise details about the device and its performance. Machines that replicate insects are called entomopters. The CIA's entomopter dragonfly's power supply and actuation system for its wings are still highly classified subjects.
But another entomopter developed by the Georgia Tech Research Institute was driven by a reciprocating chemical muscle, which is capable of generating wing beats from a chemical energy source through direct energy conversion, without combustion. The chemical muscle provides electricity for onboard systems and the entomopter used differential lift systems on the wings through Coanda effect to steer the UAV.
"This [material] has only been shown twice before [outside of the CIA]," says University of Maryland aerospace engineering professor and former US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency Nano Air Vehicle programme manager Darryll Pines.
However US military micro UAV researchers have expressed doubts that the CIA project ever succeeded as the US Department of Defense had not been provided with data on such technology, which today would be considered extremely advanced.