First Hovering Ornithopter NAV


DARPA has awarded an extension to AeroVironment for their work on the Nano Air Vehicle project.  The prototype seen above, called Mercury, is an ornithopter which means it flaps it’s wings. It is the first to show controlled hovering. Look closely, there’s no rudder or tail. Mercury uses the two wings for both lift and control. Ornithopters themselves aren’t new, we’ve even covered them before. Usually they use the flapping wings for propulson and a tail to steer as they travel like an airplane. We would really love to see some detail shots of Mercury.

[via slashdot]

24 thoughts on “First Hovering Ornithopter NAV

  1. looks like it works great if you dont have any of that pesky air moving around by itself – you know: wind, or hvac systems – notice all the plastic presumably to stop air movement.

    this is where attempts like this seem very cool on the surface – until you see a bee, dragonfly, hummingbird, etc, flying outside with such ease. nature holds all trump cards.

  2. @bingobango

    It took nature millions, even billions(depending on when you start counting), of years to come up with tiny flying creatures.
    Lets say in the wide scope of things, this project started with the Wright brother’s, which is a little more than a century ago.

    I’d say humanity holds the winning hand here.

  3. my question is, what advantages do ornithopters have over a standard heli? i fly radio controlled helicopters, and have a couple r/c ornithopters. I have a heli that is about the same size as that, yet it is much more controllable, and can handle a bit of wind. I fail to see the point, other than the neato factor of a hovering ornithopter.

  4. @ jive

    Your helis are more controllable, but are also a much simple design, spinning wings the pitch.

    a stander heli in nothing has to do with evolution of flight, you can just extend heli tech to a certain point, were the ornithopters resemble the technique used by insects, insects crash and don’t fall, they can fly fast or hover slow, change direction in a blink of an eye, this is great news, and in some time or in many years to come it will help in the evolution of flight and better understanding of aerodynamics…

  5. I found a pic at

    No mechanical details, but by the looks of it, I’d be willing to bet that the wings themselves provide no more control than throttle.

    I would venture to guess that it uses some sort of internal pendulum to control CG, and an internal dual axis gyro controlling it with a R/C override.

    Just a guess.

  6. @jive

    The tendency for flighted vehicles is the more unstable the craft the more overall maneuverability the craft has.

    In R/C planes & helis, sport planes are far less stable than trainers and helis are less stable than sport planes.

  7. @ godd: Throttle? You intend to say for thrust.

    For the rest of you – as already mentioned this is great for aerodynamic research; the closer we get to nature’s flight (or any) techniques, the better we understand how to improve our own.

    because we do all agree: nature kicks man’s ass at engineering. so man has a tendency to try and learn from nature’s ridiculous talent.

    It’s fantastic. Once we figure out how to make an engine that natively reciprocates (take out the crankshaft and hook directly into the piston?), there might even be room for competition between types.

    perhaps an engine that natively reciprocates would need two fuels, one that combusts quickly and one that does it slowly; then if you had a simple weighted piston with combustion chambers above and below, you could speed or slow the ‘flapping’ of wings by varying the mixture of fuels in each trip of the piston.

  8. @cclaan

    Damn, it was pretty nifty looking. Like a big headed Humming Bird with plumage.

    And yeah, it was battery powered. Most likely Li-po. For obvious reasons. Ha.

    @Dan Fruzzetti

    Ha, sorry. I’m used to gas powered propulsion. (i.e. controls for increasing/decreasing throttle as to a direct relationship to increasing/decreasing thrust). But you understood what I meant to say.

  9. Also, the pic isn’t down. The birdy looking thing is the craft. Just with camouflage. Ha

    Also, one would think that a reciprocating motor, you’d lose alot of energy. Specifically one half. You’d have to not only power the piston in one direction but slow it down from the opposite direction. With a cranked motor, you only have to supply energy to maintain the rotation. You still have loss from the reciprocation of the crank, but with the design they use, all of that goes to thrust.

  10. @godd:

    absolutely understood what you meant to say, but in case others didn’t i wanted to clarify it. i think you have a point about reciprocation as opposed to rotary motors, but i had a couple thoughts on that.

    first, you can use a solenoid or an electric motor arranged like a voice coil for excursion to get the reciprocating motion you want.

    second, a simple sliding mechanism can be used to convert rotary motion into reciprocating motion (as the reverse happens in your gas engine, it should be pretty easy to see). you’re right, though, that you’re going to lose some of that motor efficiency as not as much of the output will be converted to thrust.

    At the same time, clever use of the wings could up the efficiency pretty well — think like swimming. The wings would twist during the wing recovery phase so they gave almost no downward thrust.

    I’m still waiting to see when they can add a second joint in the wing more like a bird – they’re not just for folding the wings up!

  11. Well, this enterprise makes some war artifacts, see their page. I don’t like this, and I don’t think that a site that shows hacks open designs and this kind of things must promote this.
    I don’t like things to kill other people, even if it’s a little plane to spy the “enemy”, it is designed as a war artifact. I must repeat, see their page.


  12. @Dieggo:

    The internet you just posted on was created from funds that were dispersed by DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency), a US department of defense agency, the same agency that funded this work. If you don’t see the peacetime implications and uses of this technology (along with the internet), at least the US military does…

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