Home Science US Army develops new drone that can TRANSFORM mid-flight

US Army develops new drone that can TRANSFORM mid-flight

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More than meets the eye! Army develops a new drone that can TRANSFORM mid-flight, making it useful for missions that require high-speed flight or hovering in place

  • A team of engineers from the Army and Texas A&M designed a new kind of drone
  • The vehicle can transform into different shapes for different mission stages
  • Its wingspan can fold into a smaller shape for high-speed flight, and the wings can expand to full-length to add stability during hovering or ‘loitering’

Army researchers have designed a new drone that can transform mid-flight, making it capable of both high-speed flight and hovering in place at a target destination.

The drone was a joint effort from the US Army Research Laboratory and engineers Texas A&M, who presented their research at the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics Aviation Forum and Exposition.

The drone transforms by either bending its wings upward or fully extending them depending on the needs of the mission and the types of maneuvers it needs to execute.

The US Army and engineers fromTexas A&M developed a new drone design that can transform mid-flight to preserve aerodynamic stability during different phases of a mission

The US Army and engineers fromTexas A&M developed a new drone design that can transform mid-flight to preserve aerodynamic stability during different phases of a mission

For ‘dash’ segments of missions, which require travel to and from a target, the wings will be folded inward to allow for faster and more efficient travel, while ‘loiter’ phases of a mission will see the wings fully extended for increased stability.

‘During dash segments, short wings are desirable in order to go fast and be more maneuverable, but for loiter segments, long wings are desirable in order to enable low power, high endurance flight.’ Texas A&M’s Francis Phillips said in an interview with the US Army’s news blog.

According to Phillips, one of the main challenges was creating a joint capable of bending during transformation but which wouldn’t buckle or bend during flight.  

‘If the wing bends too much, then the theoretical benefits of the morphing could be negated and also could lead to control issues and instabilities,’ Phillips said.

Settling on a final design required lots of small iterations that the team was able to test in computer simulations, thanks in part to recent advances in computational power. 

The drones wings can fulled extend during'loiter' segments of a mission for added stability, and they can fold inward for'dash' segments that require high-speed flight between locations

The drones wings can fulled extend during ‘loiter’ segments of a mission for added stability, and they can fold inward for ‘dash’ segments that require high-speed flight between locations

In the past, simulating complex fluid dynamics to test a new design feature would require tens of thousands of core processing hours, according to Phillips.

With an updated approach to fluid simulation combined with recent efficiency gains in computer processors, the team was able to cut down the computational ‘cost’ of testing each new design by 80%.

According to Phillips, these advances could be a breakthrough that could make it possible to design new drones that can transform into several different forms, not just two.

‘This research will have a direct impact on the ability to generate vehicles for the future warfighter,’ Phillips said.

‘By reducing the computational cost for fluid-structure interaction analysis, structural optimization of future vertical lift vehicles can be accomplished in a much shorter time-frame.’

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