'Flying Fish' unmanned aircraft takes off and lands on water

December 5, 2007
'Flying Fish' unmanned aircraft takes off and lands on water

Flying fish were the inspiration for an unmanned seaplane with a 7-foot wingspan developed at the University of Michigan. The autonomous craft is believed to be the first seaplane that can initiate and perform its own takeoffs and landings on water.

Funded by the Department of Defense's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), it is designed to advance the agency's "persistent ocean surveillance" program.

Engineering researchers from U-M recently returned from sea trials off the coast of Monterey, Calif., where they demonstrated the craft's capability to DARPA officials.

"The vehicle did very well," said Hans Van Sumeren, associate director of the U-M Marine Hydrodynamics Laboratories. "To take off and land in the water was a big effort. We did it 22 times."

The researchers named the robotic plane Flying Fish after its inspiration. Guy Meadows, director of the U-M Marine Hydrodynamics Laboratories, conceived of the design while out on the water. "I saw these fish pop up and soar over the waves," Meadows said.

That got Meadows and his colleagues looking at sea birds for a design for their craft.

"We studied sea birds seriously," Meadows said. "They're all about the same size---about 20 pounds with a 2-meter wingspan. It turns out that, aerodynamically speaking, that's a sweet spot to be flying close to the water. Our plane is about the size of a large pelican."

Flying Fish, an electric vehicle, drifts until its onboard Global Positioning System tells the craft it has floated too far. That triggers the takeoff sequence, which gets the plane airborne in just 10 meters. Other GPS coordinates trigger the landing sequence. The craft accomplishes both in simple ways, explained Ella Atkins, associate professor of aerospace engineering and associate professor of electrical engineering and computer science.

The flight pattern is, for the most part, a recording of a graduate student's piloting of the plane. That means the takeoff is blind, Atkins explained. The plane takes no measurements of its surroundings. The waves would confuse it.

"Most people wouldn't do it this way," Atkins said. "The plane puts the motors on at full throttle and sets the pitch elevator enough to break out of the water. Then it counts and pitches forward. We believe that if we had done it any other way, we would have basically dived into the ocean on takeoff because the plane would have detected huge oscillations due to the waves."

The landing is basically a shallow descent.

"When it impacts the water, it goes, 'Oh, there's the water,'" Akins said. "The boat has very well-designed pontoons. Because it doesn't have a flat bottom, it cuts into the water like a diver, as opposed to belly-flopping."

The craft was a collaborative effort among researchers in the departments of Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering, Electrical Engineering and Computer Science and Aerospace Engineering.

Next, the team plans to outfit the plane with solar power and add more sensors.

Source: University of Michigan

Explore further: Experts use drift modeling to define new MH370 search zone

Related Stories

Experts use drift modeling to define new MH370 search zone

August 19, 2016

Experts hunting for the missing Malaysian airliner are attempting to define a new search area by studying where in the Indian Ocean the first piece of wreckage recovered from the lost Boeing 777—a wing flap—most likely ...

Why planes freeze

June 21, 2016

Pilots and safety officials worry about ice accumulating on the wings and tail of an aircraft flying during freezing rain. Abnormal ice buildup can disturb airflow to alter the physics of flight and lead to stalls, rolls ...

New wings give ICARUS flight for second neutrino hunt

July 5, 2016

It's a big shining box, 4 metres high, 20 metres long: this magnificent detector arrived at CERN 16 months ago and since then it is undergoing a complete refurbishing. ICARUS, a 760-ton detector filled with liquid argon (LAr) ...

Recommended for you

Inferring urban travel patterns from cellphone data

August 29, 2016

In making decisions about infrastructure development and resource allocation, city planners rely on models of how people move through their cities, on foot, in cars, and on public transportation. Those models are largely ...

How machine learning can help with voice disorders

August 29, 2016

There's no human instinct more basic than speech, and yet, for many people, talking can be taxing. 1 in 14 working-age Americans suffer from voice disorders that are often associated with abnormal vocal behaviors - some of ...

Apple issues update after cyber weapon captured

August 26, 2016

Apple iPhone owners on Friday were urged to install a quickly released security update after a sophisticated attack on an Emirati dissident exposed vulnerabilities targeted by cyber arms dealers.

2 comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

codesuidae
not rated yet Dec 05, 2007
Interesting article, but you couldn't get a picture?
jamesrm
not rated yet Dec 05, 2007

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.