DARPA pushes on with flapping wing system

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The US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency has contracted AeroVironment to design and build a flying prototype 75mm (3in) flapping-wing air vehicle system to advance its nano air vehicle programme.

DARPA's NAV programme looks to develop and demonstrate an extremely small (less than 75mm), ultra-lightweight - less than 10g (0.35oz) - air vehicle system employing novel, bio-inspired, conventional and unconventional configurations with the potential to perform indoor and outdoor military reconnaissance missions.

DARPA also wants to advance technologies that enable collision avoidance and navigation systems for use in GPS-denied environments.

AeroVironment's NAV is designed to weigh no more than 10g and have the ability to carry a payload of up to 2g. The company's NAV team also developed the Black Widow and Wasp micro air vehicles for DARPA

According to DARPA, the NAV programme will push the limits of aerodynamic and power conversion efficiency, endurance, and manoeuvrability for very small air vehicle systems: "NAV platforms will be revolutionary in their ability to harness low-Reynolds number physics, navigate in complex environments, and communicate over significant distances."

AeroVironment executive vice-president and general manager of unmanned aircraft systems John Grabowsky says: "The NAV programme represents the early development of a revolutionary new class of UAS."

The $636,000, six-month phase II contract to build and demonstrate a prototype could be extended for an additional 18 months. The award follows a $1.7 million phase I contract under which AeroVironment completed a preliminary design review.