The common swift is not only the smallest soaring bird, but can go up to three years without landing. Now a team of researchers has built a micro airplane that mimics the efficient flyer.

It's a Bird ... It's a Plane ...


The RoboSwift has shape-shifting, adjustable wings that allow it to maneuver at very high or low speeds.

The quick-moving Roboswift could be used to spy on its natural kin — which spend much of their time nearly a mile in the sky — to survey disaster areas, or to peek in on suspicious people.

"Roboswift looks like a real common swift and people don’t recognize it as a robotic bird," said Stan Kosman, RoboSwift’s team leader and an undergraduate student in aerospace engineering at the Technical University of Delft in the Netherlands.

With a wingspan of about one-and-a-half feet and weighing just under three ounces, the remote-controlled Roboswift is slightly larger and heavier than a common swift. But like the common swift, the robot can change its wing shape and surface area to glide or dive.

Key to the design is a pair of wings made of four feathers each, which can fold in over each other.

Folding the feathers in on just one wing creates a difference in lift and can turn the bird right or left. Folding the wings in on both sides reduces the surface area to allow the bird to dive or fly faster. Soaring can be achieved by spreading the feathers out as far as they will go, increasing the surface area.

A foldable propeller gives the micro airplane lift and then folds smoothly over the aircraft’s body when turned off to reduce drag and improve gliding performance. Three tiny cameras allow the ground-control pilot to see what the bird sees and steer it in the right direction.

"What they’re doing is a worthwhile thing. The more flexibility you put in the wings, the greater your flight perfomance is going to be," said Anthony Colozza, a research and development engineer at Analex, an aerospace contractor at NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, OH.

Colozza and his team developed a bird-inspired micro airplane with flapping wings.

The trick with flying like a bird is getting the motion right, he said. The more complex the wing, the more difficult it is to control. An unexpected gust of wind can send the plane reeling.

"You want the plane to sense what’s happening and then react like a bird would," said Colozza. And for that, it may need a more sophisticated operator, such as computer program that interprets wind conditions and responds immediately.

The team will be testing their control skills this September when they fly Roboswift in a wind tunnel. After that, they plan to build three robotic birds to participate in the First American-Asian Micro Air Vehicle competition in India next March.

Via: Discovery Channel