It’s a bird … It’s a drone … Oh yeah, it’s a drone

One of the mainstays of science fiction is Ornithopter, a plane with moving wings. Although these have not proved to be very practical in the general sense, a recent research paper has talked about mimicking the shape of natural wings to improve the maneuverability of drones and other aircraft. In particular, the paper talks about how the flight performance of many birds and bats is much higher than that of conventional aircraft.

The technical term for being more maneuverable than a conventional aircraft is, surprisingly, called supermanuvability. This type of operation is required for aircraft performing things like the Pugachev Cobra maneuver (watch the video below or watch the latest Top Gun movie) and with modern aircraft this means using thrust-vector technology with unstable airframes and sophisticated computer control. Not the way birds or bats work, and the paper uses modern flight simulation techniques to show that biomimicry and thrust vector technology do not have to be mutually exclusive.

So how do you apply drone lessons from birds, bats and even flying squirrels? The answer is that the wings have been shown solely to give a sense of proportion.

A key technique covered in paper is particularly interesting for military drones: RaNPAS or quick-nose-pointing-and-shooting. Perhaps, you are not worried about it for your next drone project, but it would be great to be able to move more like a bird.

Not that we haven’t seen real ornithopters around here. Some of them are practically prehistoric.

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