The National Institute of Aerospace (NIA) and the Clark School announced today that they have been awarded the first phase of an $11 million unmanned aeronautical vehicle (UAV) research and development program funded by DARPA. The Sky Walker Program is a 30-month effort that focuses on using atmospheric energy and wing load morphing to create aircraft capable long-enduring flight.
This program is a collaborative effort between NIA, the Clark School, NASA Langley Research Center, Aurora Flight Systems, Georgia Tech and the Army Research Laboratory.
Dr. James E. Hubbard, Jr., Langley Distinguished Professor from the Clark School in residence at NIA, will lead the effort. The program will
pursue Dr. Hubbard's goal to use smart structures and smart skin technology to enhance the performance of modern air vehicles. Sky Walker is bio-inspired and uses unique proprietary sensing technology to mimic the enduring flight of the albatross.
"The grey headed albatross routinely circumnavigates the globe during its migration. They can make the 13,000 mile trip in about 48 days by exploiting energy available in the atmosphere. Sky Walker will use similar techniques of atmospheric energy exploitation in order to increase UAV range, endurance and on-station persistence," stated Dr. Hubbard.
As UAVs become a popular means for data collection and dissemination, the vehicles can become large, heavier and more expensive, thus creating a greater need for fuel. Using convective energy found in the atmosphere can reduce the requirement of added fuel capacity while increasing the UAV's ability to increase its range and endurance. The program uses an enabling sensor technology consisting of wing surface pressure sensors that can measure real-time lift and drag components and forward-looking environmental sensors that locate potential energy waypoints.
"We are very excited with the team that Dr. Hubbard has formed to conduct this very exciting research project. We are looking forward to an entire new generation of aircraft that can transform themselves into shapes that are optimum for their missions," commented Prof. William Fourney, chairman of the Department of Aerospace Engineering at the Clark School.
NIA is a research and graduate education institute formed by a consortium of research universities to ensure a national capability to support NASA's mission by expanding collaboration with academia and leveraging expertise inside and outside NASA. NIA performs research in a broad range of disciplines including air traffic systems, aviation safety, flight systems, materials and structures, space exploration, and atmospheric sciences. The institute's graduate program offers M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in the fields of engineering and science through its university partners: Georgia Tech, Hampton University, North Carolina A&T State University, North Carolina State University, the University of Maryland, the University of Virginia, Virginia Tech, Old Dominion
University, and the College of William & Mary. The six Langley Professorships are teaching and research faculty appointments in residence at NIA, established by the six founding universities. Dr. Hubbard also serves as the director of NIA?s Center for Adaptive Aerospace Vehicle Technology.
August 10, 2006