Aircraft That Fly Like Hummingbirds

Maryland vertical take-off and landing designs receive top honors in the Vertical Flight Society’s annual student design competition

2 min read
Metaltail, autonomous coaxial-proprotor swing-wing tailsitter

Imagine an autonomous coaxial-proprotor swing-wing tailsitter that, like the high-altitude hummingbirds of Ecuador, leverages visual sensory information and adjustable wing geometry to maneuver in megacity environments. Let’s call it Metaltail.

Metaltail, autonomous coaxial-proprotor swing-wing tailsitter

Now picture a coaxial proprotor tailsitter configuration that utilizes a novel variable incidence boxwing and a bidirectional ducted fan, all in a vehicle weighing 532.6 kilograms that can hover and fly up to 426 kilometers per hour. Call it Kwatee.

Kwatee, coaxial proprotor tailsitter

Both of these designs received top honors in the Vertical Flight Society’s annual Student Design Competition, which challenges students to design a vertical lift aircraft that meets specified requirements.

In the graduate category, the University of Maryland (UMD) and Nanjing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics placed first for designing an autonomous coaxial-proprotor swing-wing tailsitter that used visual sensory information and adjustable wing geometry to maneuver in megacity environments. Lightweight turboshaft engines and an aerodynamic design were also included. The team named their design the “Metaltail” for the Tyrian Metaltail hummingbirds, which have the agility to hover precisely in place in complex and dynamic environments. They also developed a FLIGHTLAB model of their vehicle, winning the optional bonus portion of the competition.

In the undergraduate category, UMD’s team won first place for designing a coaxial proprotor tailsitter with blades that optimize the compromise between hover and propulsive efficiencies through an extensive parametric sweep of 7,700 airfoils, taper and twist rates. The team called this the “Kwatee,” which boasted two flight modes with the capability for navigating in megacity environments, a maximum dash speed of 426 kilometers per hour, an extended range of 354 kilometers, and an endurance of 4.1 hours.

UMD has a strong record of excellence at this competition. Last year, UMD also placed first in both the graduate and undergraduate categories, and, in 2016 and 2015, UMD won the top award in the graduate category.

This year, the US Army Research Laboratory (ARL) sponsored the competition with a total of $13,000 in prize money. The teams will be awarded a cash stipend and will be invited to the Vertical Flight Society's Annual Forum and Technology Display in May 2019 to present the details of their designs. Team members receive complimentary registration to the Forum, a technical event that promotes vertical flight technology advancement.

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​​Why the World’s Militaries Are Embracing 5G

To fight on tomorrow's more complicated battlefields, militaries must adapt commercial technologies

15 min read
4 large military vehicles on a dirt road. The third carries a red container box. Hovering above them in a blue sky is a large drone.

In August 2021, engineers from Lockheed and the U.S. Army demonstrated a flying 5G network, with base stations installed on multicopters, at the U.S. Army's Ground Vehicle Systems Center, in Michigan. Driverless military vehicles followed a human-driven truck at up to 50 kilometers per hour. Powerful processors on the multicopters shared the processing and communications chores needed to keep the vehicles in line.

Lockheed Martin

It's 2035, and the sun beats down on a vast desert coastline. A fighter jet takes off accompanied by four unpiloted aerial vehicles (UAVs) on a mission of reconnaissance and air support. A dozen special forces soldiers have moved into a town in hostile territory, to identify targets for an air strike on a weapons cache. Commanders need live visual evidence to correctly identify the targets for the strike and to minimize damage to surrounding buildings. The problem is that enemy jamming has blacked out the team's typical radio-frequency bands around the cache. Conventional, civilian bands are a no-go because they'd give away the team's position.

As the fighter jet and its automated wingmen cross into hostile territory, they are already sweeping the ground below with radio-frequency, infrared, and optical sensors to identify potential threats. On a helmet-mounted visor display, the pilot views icons on a map showing the movements of antiaircraft batteries and RF jammers, as well as the special forces and the locations of allied and enemy troops.

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