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

Dec 05, 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: Student designs and develops revolutionary new hand-held laminating tool

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Fingers pointed as climate talks deadlock

8 hours ago

Accusations flew at deadlocked UN climate talks in Lima on Saturday, as the United States warned that failure to compromise could doom the 22-year-old global forum.

Fun cryptography app pleases students and teachers

18 hours ago

Up on Google Play this week is Cryptoy...something that you might want to check out if you or someone you know wishes entry into the world of cryptography via an educational and fun app. You learn more about ciphers and keys; you ...

Recommended for you

First drone in Nevada test program crashes in demo

5 hours ago

A drone testing program in Nevada is off to a bumpy start after the first unmanned aircraft authorized to fly without Federal Aviation Administration supervision crashed during a ceremony in Boulder City.

Fully automated: Thousands of blood samples every hour

13 hours ago

Siemens is supplying automation technology for the longest and one of the most cutting-edge sample processing lines in any clinical laboratory. The line, or automation track, 200 meters long, in Marlborough, ...

Explainer: What is 4-D printing?

13 hours ago

Additive manufacturing – or 3D printing – is 30 years old this year. Today, it's found not just in industry but in households, as the price of 3D printers has fallen below US$1,000. Knowing you can p ...

First series production vehicle with software control

14 hours ago

Siemens has unveiled the first electric series production vehicle with the central electronics and software architecture RACE. This technology, developed in the research project of the same name, replaces ...

Amputee puts limb system through its paces

16 hours ago

"Amputee Makes History with APL's Modular Prosthetic Limb" is the headline from Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, where a team working on prosthetics observed a milestone when a double amputee showed ...

User comments : 2

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.