A new robotic seagull called the SmartBird designed by the German company Festo that also created the autonomous robotic jellyfish and the elephant-trunk-inspired robotic arm is one of the most realistic animal inspired flying machines ever. To be specific, the robot is modelled after the herring gull and its flight motions and appearance is extremely similar to the real bird. Besides its startling similarities to a real bird, another amazing feature of the robot is that it can take off and land autonomously without any additional drive systems.
To achieve flight, Festo designed the robot with wings that not only beat up and down, but bend at specific spots just like what the wings of a normal bird do in flight. When flying, a lever mechanism increases the degree of deflection from the torso to the wing. The wings can also twist in such a way that during the upwards stroke, the leading edge of the wing is slightly upwards. This is called a positive angle of attack.
Direction can be changed by the opposing motion of the head and torso of the bird. This movement is synchronised by cables and two electric motors. The tail's movements also help change directions. It can tilt left or right to initiate turns or move left to right to generate yaw. The tail also acts as stabilizer and a pitch elevator.
The robot has a wing span of about 2 m (6.5 feet), which is much larger than an actual herring gull, and has a weight of about 400 g (1 pound). To achieve this weight, the company used lightweight carbon fibre in the body of the bird.
All these design features result in a robot that is light and agile with excellent aerodynamic qualities. In developing the Smartbird, the company says it has successfully deciphered bird flight, "one of the oldest dreams of humankind". They also say that the development of this technology with its functional integration of coupled drive units yields significant ideas and insights that the company can then apply to hybrid drive technology.
Carnegie Mellon University's Robotics Institute received $988 000 late last year to develop an autonomous flight system for DARPA's military flying car concept called the Transformer. If DARPA had its way, the Transformer will be a four-wheeled off road military vehicle that can also transform into a Vertical Takeoff and Landing (VTOL) aircraft. It will have a range of 250 nautical miles on a single full tank of fuel, seating for four, and a payload of 1 000 pounds.
The Transformer will greatly improve mobility for ground troops. The soldiers will not only move to and fro the battlefield faster, it will also allow them to fly over difficult terrain or terrain with possible enemy troops.
One of the many challenges of developing the Transformer is the flight system. The ordinary soldier will not be able to fly an aircraft and so the flight system of the vehicle will have to be largely automatic. That's where Carnegie Mellon comes in. Their robotics institute have already won DARPA's Urban Challenge, which is a race to create an automatic car, in 2007 and I would say they are well prepared.
The rest of the Transformer will be developed by AAI and Lockheed Martin, who are creating overall design concepts, and Pratt and Whitney Rocketdyne, who is developing the engines.
This mysterious UAV dubbed "The Beast of Kandahar" has surfaced in many photos in recent years. It first appeared in the skies of Kandahar, Afghanistan in 2009 and the US Air Force confirmed that they did indeed operate a stealth drone called the Lockheed Martin RQ-170 Sentinel and that the drone is the product of Lockheed's Skunk Works, which is also responsible for the U-2, the SR-71 Blackbird, the F-117 Nighthawk, the F-22 Raptor, and the F-35 Lightning II. However, that was about all that was revealed about this mysterious aircraft.
Pictures of the RQ-170 Sentinel right now show that it does not carry any weapons. So what is it used for? Reconnaissance is definitely part of its function but with so many other drones operating in Afghanistan, it certainly is unlikely that information collection is the only function of the drone. Well, according to Bill Sweetman, a blogger that maintains AviationWeek's Ares blog and the undisputed civilian expert of the RQ-170 at this point states that from looking at the belly shape of the Beast, it is most likely configured to carry "a high-powered microwave source" to fry electronic equipment such as radars and weapons computers or as an electronic jamming platform.
However, right now, the secret drone is more likely jamming radars than using a high-powered microwave weapon. Only four months ago, the US Air Force gave Lockheed Martin $230 000 to develop a microwave energy weapon concept and a month later gave BAE Systems $150 000 to test the effectiveness of microwaves on computers.
It is interesting to note that the RQ-170 Sentinel is similar in appearance to the US Navy's X-47B Stealth UAV drone.
The Aerial Regional-scale Environmental Surveyor (ARES) is a proposed project of NASA's Langley Research Centre that may very well launch the first plane that will fly on Mars. The plane will be rocket powered and once on Mars, will fly for about two hours at about 450 miles per hour.
The ARES plane will explore and provide detailed information of mountainous and rough regions on the Martian surface that is inaccessible by ground-based rovers. It would be flying at about a mile above the Martian surface collecting valuable data and measurements.
The aircraft will reach the Martian orbit via a carrier craft and it will be compacted in an aeroshell. This shell will prevent the fragile aircraft from burning up when entering the Martian atmosphere. It will also have a parachute that will decelerate the aeroshell as it blazes down the Martian skies.
After release from the carrier craft, the parachutes of the aeroshell will deploy and at an altitude of about 20 miles up, the ARES plane will leave its aeroshell and extend its wings and tail. After this is done, the rocket engines will fire.
After completing its 2 hour flight, the ARES plane will have covered more than 932 miles or unexplored Martian terrain and will have given us a much better understanding of the planet. Right now, the ARES team already has a half-scale prototype that have successfully completed tests and drills that prove that it can fly on the Martian surface. The team is hoping that the ARES plane will be selected for the next Mars Scout Mission in 2011.
Iran unveiled a new weapon in its arsenal last year called the Bavar 2 or Confidence 2, a stealth flying boat that can be equipped with surveillance gears, machine guns, and even missiles. Since its unveiling, Bavar 2 has come under much criticism from the rest of the world.
Many of the criticism is directed at the supposed "stealth" of the flying boat. Iran claims that the specially designed hull of the aircraft is undetectable by radar but some say its just because the Bavar 2 flies so low that it is below the range of radar most of the time. Also, some have joked that the Bavar 2 looks like a watercraft that anyone can order online in kit-form and assemble.
Despite the criticisms, the Bavar 2 does make for a good surveillance aircraft. Its estimated top speed of 100 knots (115.2 miles per hour) and stealth help it patrol Iran's waters keeping out uninvited foreign vessels/aircraft. It could also use its on-board machine gun and even missiles to harass larger, slower vessels. Also, since the Bavar 2 is relatively small and does not employ a lot of high tech equipment, it can be produced in large numbers with relative ease.
Just a week ago, the Navy test-flew its new UAV, the X-47B. The test flight took place at Edwards AFB at 2 p.m. and lasted 29 minutes. The aircraft reached an altitude of 5 000 ft.
The X-47B is said to revolutionize robotic aerial warfare because of some of its one of a kind characteristics. Unlike other UAV's before it, such as the Predators and Reapers operating in the Middle East, the X-47B is powered by a jet engine so it can fly at much higher speeds. This new UAV also possesses stealth characteristics and will also be able to operate off carriers.
The X-47B's airframe looks like a combination between the B-2 and the F-117. It has a tailless design like the B-2 and the wing design of the F-117. The demonstration aircraft seen above is only a fraction of the size the X-47B will be. The X-47C, a proposed larger version, will have a wingspan of 172 ft, more than 4 times the length of the wingspan of the B variant (which is 38.2 ft).
The funding for this aircraft began in 2007 when the Navy awarded a $ 635.8 million contract to Northrop Grumman. It will be a few more years before the X-47B comes into service but it shows that more and more attention is being paid on unmanned aerial vehicles and that in the future, aerial warfare will probably be predominantly unmanned planes.
Japan has recently announced that it will test fly its own stealth fighter, the Mitsubishi ATD-X, in 2014. This announcement was not a complete surprise as since 2009, it has provided $ 473 million dollars in funding to this program after it became apparent the US will not share its F-22 technology.
The design of the ATD-X is similar to other fourth and fifth generation fighters. It is a single-seater powered by two engines. Right now, there is a 1/3 model of the plane.
Some of the features of the ATD-X include a Fly-By-Optics system where, instead of using wires, the plane uses optical fibres to transfer information. These fibres transfer information at a much higher rate and are immune to electro magnetic disturbances.
The radar of the plane will be an actively electronically scanned array (AESA) radar called the "Multifunction RF Sensor" that is intended to have capabilities such as electronic countermeasures (ECM), electronic support measures (ESM), communications functions, and possibly even microwave weapon functions.
Another feature will be the "Self Repairing Flight Control Capability" that will allow the aircraft to detect failures or damages on its flight control surfaces so that it can use the remaining flight control surfaces to continue flying the plane.
It is interesting to note that just two months ago, China test flew its own stealth fighter, the J-20 and last year, Russia test flew its stealth fighter, the T-50. Currently, the US is the only country that has operational stealth fighters but with so many countries developing their own, this will certainly change in the near future.
China's new Chengdu J-20 aircraft made its first flight on January 11, 2011. It's a fifth generation stealth fighter similar to the US F-22 and F-35 and Russia's T-50. According to a high-ranking official in the People's Liberation Army Air Force, it is expected this jet will become operational in 2017-2019.
The J-20 is a single-seater aircraft powered by two engines. Design features include low jet intakes, a delta wing, forward canard wings, a bubble canopy, a forward chine, and all-moving fins.
Through preliminary photos, it can be seen that the J-20 is certainly larger in size than both the F-22 and the T-50. This means that the J-20 is probably going to be less maneuverable but it will be able to carry more weapons and fuel. Also, according to an Australian defense analyst, Carlo Kopp that the J-20's stealth shape is "without doubt considerably better" than both those two planes.
It is disappointing to note that some people speculate that the Chinese used technology from the downed F-117 of the Kosovo War to develop the J-20. However, according to Xu YongLing, a Chinese test pilot, the aircraft is a "masterpiece" of homegrown innovation and that the F-117 was already "outdated" at the time it was shot down and would not be practical to apply this technology to a next-generation aircraft.