Now an unmanned seaplane inspired by ‘flying fish’ that takes off and lands on its own

December 7th, 2007 - 1:06 pm ICT by admin  

Washington, Dec 7 (ANI): Engineers have developed an unmanned seaplane with a 7-foot wingspan, inspired by flying fish.
The person who conceived the design of the seaplane was Guy Meadows, director of the U-M Marine Hydrodynamics Laboratories.
Developed at the University of Michigan , this autonomous craft is believed to be the first seaplane that can initiate and perform its own takeoffs and landings on water.
“The vehicle did very well,” said Hans Van Sumeren , associate director of the U-M Marine Hydrodynamics Laboratories, referring to the trials undertaken by the new seaplane. “To take off and land in the water was a big effort. We did it 22 times,” he added.
The researchers named the robotic plane ‘Flying Fish’ after its inspiration.
According to Meadows, he conceived of the design while out on the water. “I saw these fish pop up and soar over the waves,” said Meadows.
That got Meadows and his colleagues looking at sea birds for a design for their craft.
“We studied sea birds seriously. They’re all about the same size—about 20 pounds with a 2-meter wingspan,” said Meadows. “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,” he added.
As for the functioning of the seaplane, it drifts until its onboard Global Positioning System tells the craft that 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.
“As the flight pattern, for most of the part, is a recording of a graduate student’s piloting of the plane, the takeoff is blind,” said Atkins.
In fact, the plane takes no measurements of its surroundings as the waves would confuse it.
“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,” said Atkins. “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,” she added.
As for the landing, it is basically a shallow descent.
“The boat has very well-designed pontoons,” said Atkins. “Because it doesn’t have a flat bottom, it cuts into the water like a diver, as opposed to belly-flopping,” she added.
The research team now plans to outfit the plane with solar power and add more sensors. (ANI)

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