Q: Is it a bird? Is it a plane? A: Neither – it's a microdrone
The enemy might look up and ask if it's a bird, a plane or Superman. Soon, however, it might be a mechanical insect with flapping wings, transmitting sound and images back to commanders in the United States. And if it's not zipping through the air it could instead be perching quietly on a window sill near you.
In recent years the US Army and Air Force have grown ever more dependent on unmanned aircraft, known as drones, to spy on and fire missiles at America's foes, and the Pentagon is now moving quickly to develop new generations of the machines, some of which will be as small as dragonflies. Research into new types of drones is moving at full tilt in a facility at Wright Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio, where the next big goal is the development of miniature drones that will use "flapping wing" technology to stay aloft and be able to land almost anywhere, hopefully undetected. Greg Parker, an aerospace engineer at the base, told The New York Times: "We're looking at how you hide in plain sight."
Researchers say that while work has been done on replicating the mechanics of bird flight, the actions of an insect's wings are easier to copy and translate into moving parts.
So intense is the focus on developing insect-like drones now that the warehouse where the research is being pursued has been called the "micro-aviary". One focus is developing drones that will have wings based on those of a hawk moth. "It's impressive what they can do compared to what our clumsy aircraft can do," said Major Michael Anderson, who is assigned to the base.
Drone technology has become ever more crucial to US forces in arenas as far apart as North Korea (where they carry out surveillance of nuclear activities), Libya, Iraq and of course Afghanistan. While a decade ago the US had fewer than 50 unmanned aircraft ready for deployment, today it has as many as 7,000 of them. Best known to the general public is the Predator drone, which is about the size of a small propeller plane. It is flown remotely by pilots in front of computer screens with joysticks, usually in the US, who can both watch the enemy and fire upon it. Today, the US Air Force has more pilots training to fly drones than to fly manned aircraft.
But there is a wide range of other drone models in service, including blimp-like machines that are tethered and provide stationary surveillance platforms, and tiny toy-like remote-control aircraft that can be pitched into the air like a ball by soldiers, moving forward to tell them what might be lurking around the next corner or over the next hill. Called Ravens, these are in use by US forces in Afghanistan.
The Pentagon has asked Congress for $5bn to expand its drone fleet in the coming year. While insect drones are not yet off the drawing board, in February the US Air Force began testing a prototype hummingbird drone developed by AeroVironment, the private company which makes the Raven. Four inches long, it is said to be capable of hovering and flying forward at 11mph thanks to flapping wings.
elephant appealThe first 23 lots in our charity auction have now gone. But there are 22 more still up for grabs
newsFormer soldier taped 33 of the animals to the floor and then stamped on them one by one
Michelle Nijhuis' daughter insists (s)he is, and she learnt a valuable lesson on gender in books
Sun will 'flip upside down' within weeks, says Nasa
Lee Rigby murder: How killers Michael Adebolajo and Michael Adebowale became ultra-violent radicals
Cycle death inquest: Boyfriend hugs driver of 32 tonne tipper truck that killed his girlfriend
Paul Walker death caused by speed alone
Apollo Theatre collapse: Scores injured after ceiling collapses in London's West End
Exclusive: Young people ‘want UK to stay in Europe’: Four in 10 adults aged 18 to 24 are ‘firmly in favour’ of membership, poll shows
Tom Daley ‘is gay because his father died’ says UK evangelist
Iain Duncan Smith leaves Commons food banks debate early
Kiss and yell: Italian protester charged with sexual assault after kissing riot police officer
PM denies two child limit for benefits is part of Tory welfare policy
Anachronistic and iniquitous, grammar schools are a blot on the British education system
- 1 America's 'virgin births'? One in 200 mothers 'became pregnant without having sex'
- 2 North Koreans are gasping for the truth: Let's give it to them
- 3 Sun will 'flip upside down' within weeks, says Nasa
- 4 Christmas comes early: Justin Bieber is 'retiring from music'
- 5 Cycle death inquest: Boyfriend hugs driver of 32 tonne tipper truck that killed his girlfriend
- < Previous
- Next >
£25000 - £40000 per annum: Capita Education Resourcing Permanent Team: This se...
Salary £35 - 55K Plus Generous Benefits Package inc Car and Healthcare etc: C...
£120000 - £150000 per annum: Cornwallis Elt : Programme Manager, Strategy Lead...
£50000 - £70000 per annum: Pro-Recruitment Group: The London office of this Bi...