Aerovironment's winged nano air vehicle hovers for 20s

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Aerovironment's flapping wing demonstrator nano air vehicle (NAV) has generated enough lift for take-off and hovered for 20s at the end of the first phase of the US military's NAV programme.

Called Mercury, the demonstrator made the powered flight in December 2008 and Aerovironment says that the nano aircraft is capable of climbing and descending vertically, flying sideways left and right and forward and backward, under remote control.

The California-based company was awarded a $2.1 million phase two contract in April by the programme's sponsor, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, for work that will last until the third quarter of 2010. Phase two will focus on extending its endurance, ensuring it can easily transition from hover to forward flight and back, reducing its size, its mass and acoustic signature.

"There are still many hurdles to achieve the vehicle we envisioned when the programme was started, but we believe that the progress to date puts us on the path to such a vehicle," says DARPA NAV programme manager Todd Hylton.

The goals of the NAV programme are to develop a 10g (0.35oz) vehicle that hovers for extended periods, can fly at up to 19kt (36km/h), can withstand wind gusts of almost 5kt, can operate inside buildings and be remotely controlled up to 1km (0.5nm) away.

The NAV programme was initiated by DARPA to develop a new class of air vehicles that mimick winged creatures and could indoors and outdoors to provide new military reconnaissance capabilities in the urban environments.