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XPONENTIAL Innovation Preview -- www.allthingsunmanned.com

Thu, Aug 18, 2011

Maple Seed-Inspired UAV Makes First Public Flight At AUVSI

Tiny Samarai, Ruggedized Stalker Presented By Lockheed Martin

A beefed-up long-endurance UAS and an aircraft inspired by a maple seed are among the unmanned systems being displayed by Lockheed Martin at the AUVSI's Unmanned Systems North America show in Washington, DC this week.

Image Courtesy Lockheed Martin

Weighing less than half a pound, Lockheed Martin's Samarai handheld vehicle flew publicly for the first time Tuesday at the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International conference. Samarai demonstrated vertical takeoff and landing, stable hover, and on-board video streaming. While the aircraft flew a series of flights in the roughly 40 foot test area, it streamed live video from a camera that rotated around its center providing a 360 degree view without a gimbal.

"Our team has taken the basic shape and design of the naturally aerodynamic maple seed and harnessed it with flight controls and avionics," said Kingsley Fregene, principal investigator for Samarai at Lockheed Martin's Advanced Technology Laboratories. "We've learned a great deal about biologically inspired vehicles that we can apply across the laboratory, including a better understanding of micro-robots and the devices that control their movement."

Samarai is mechanically simple with only two moving parts. Because its 16 inches long and weighs less than half a pound, an operator can easily carry the vehicle in a backpack and launch it from the ground or like a boomerang. The design is scalable to meet different missions, including surveillance and reconnaissance and payload delivery.

Lockheed Martin tested the first 3-D printed Samarai last week. The vehicle was produced by "printing" successive small layers of plastic to create a single form. The printer eliminates expensive production costs, allowing engineers to quickly and affordably produce Samarai tailored to specific missions.

Image Courtesy Lockheed Martin

At the other end of the spectrum, the company's ruggedized version of the Stalker Unmanned Air System (UAS), called the Stalker eXtreme Endurance (XE) UAS, quadruples Stalker's flight endurance to eight-plus hours without impacting the mobility of the unmanned system or the flexibility of its payload capabilities, according to Lockheed. "Missions requiring real time eyes-on a situation for extended periods of time, like border patrol, pipeline surveillance and special operations can now be conducted by a small UAS versus a larger, more costly system," said Tom Koonce, Lockheed Martin's Stalker program manager. 'The convenience and lower cost of a small UAS combined with extended endurance is a true game-changer."

The Stalker XE system is powered by Ultra Electronics' pioneering hybrid energy source using a propane fuel cell with a small, conventional lithium polymer battery to handle power peaks. This long-endurance fuel cell technology was developed through an innovative Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) sponsored effort led by Lockheed Martin and Adaptive Materials Incorporated (now a division of Ultra Electronics Holdings, plc). The DARPA project culminated with a rigorous flight test program including numerous back-to-back, long endurance intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance high altitude and high wind flights proving that the Stalker UAS met or exceeded all technical and performance milestones.

The complete Stalker XE system includes two aircraft, fuel cells, command and control ground station, support equipment, and small propane fuel storage tank. The standard air vehicle sensor is a modular dual daylight and night-time imager that allows persistent surveillance during the visual/thermal transition from day to night.

FMI: www.lockheedmartin.com

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