An aircraft the size of a bee gets its energy by feeding itself a diet of dead flies. The tiny aircraft could be buzzing around the battlefields and motorways of the future, thanks to research in southwest England.

The aircraft, up to 15cm long and equipped with sensors and cameras, could have a number of uses in civilian life and modern warfare, including reconnaissance missions, traffic monitoring or fire and rescue operations.

By “digesting” its own fuel, the aircraft could become autonomous and operate without the need for refuelling, changing batteries or recharging from the mains.

The research is being carried out by scientists from the University of Bath and the University of the West of England who are working on different aspects of the technologies involved.

The University of Bath researchers are studying the complex aerodynamics needed to fly very small unmanned aircraft. The smaller an aircraft is made, the slower is its speed and the more it is vulnerable to high winds. This means that existing micro air vehicles can only fly for short periods at low speed and are too large to carry out fine manoeuvres.

But the Department of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Bath is now carrying out five research projects over the next two years to find ways of overcoming these problems.

One approach they are working on is to get the micro air vehicles to flap their wings in a similar way to insects such as bees, flies or birds. By studying animals’ motion, the researchers hope to match the efficiency of nature and keep smaller aeroplanes in the sky for long enough to carry out their tasks.

More here.