Aurora Flight Sciences - which just flew the turbine-electric Excalibur vertical-take-off UAV - is not out of innovative ideas. Some of the company's "skunk works" engineers, not long out of MIT, were at the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) show to present two backpack UAV concepts, designed for urban warfare, that push the envelope of what flying machines look like.
.. and add motors and tails (Ares photos)
Skate is intended to fly and navigate in GPS-denied environments. It resembles a rigid, folding kite and is powered and steered by two independently controlled, vectoring, electrically powered propellers. Obstacle avoidance is provided by a "visual flow sensor" system called Panoptis, which uses a radial array of optical sensors to track the movement of objects past the moving vehicle, plus a forward-looking ultrasonic sensor. The aerodynamic configuration and propulsive control make the Skate essentially immune to conventional stalls and allows it to turn tightly between buildings or inside them.
Mamba (Ares photo)
Mamba has been designed to provide a simpler, more compact design for a ducted-fan UAV. With twin counter-rotating two-blade rotors and a four-segment folding duct, Mamba collapses into a small volume. Its most unusual feature, though, is a "suck and stare" mode: it can fly into a ceiling and wall and use the fan to stay in place, using less power than hovering.
Both UAVs could be turned into products quickly, Aurora engineers say. "They could be ready to go in six to nine months," one says. The next step would be outdoor flight testing, and setting up mass production of airframe components.