Unmanned Air Vehicle

Micro Craft Developing UAV

Source: Micro Craft

Micro Craft has always been known for its innovative problem-solving skills and ability to develop solutions to the problems of its customers. Now they have focused their innovation on advancing the technologies required to implement a low-cost, scaleable, vertical take-off unmanned air vehicle (UAV) system. The Micro Craft UAV solution is a unique, ducted-fan concept specifically addressing the growing need for agile, simple-to-operate and smaller-scale, low-cost UAV systems.

Micro Craft’s UAV takes off and lands vertically, similar to a helicopter, but flies horizontally (cruise, loiter, dash) by pitching over and developing lift from the circular duct and optional wing. Thus the UAV takes advantage of the propulsive efficiency of the ducted fan for take-off and landing and the aerodynamic efficiency of the wing during cruise. Ducted fans can provide approximately 30% more thrust than conventional open propellers. These benefits translate into large payloads, long range, and high cruise speeds. An optional wing is fabricated from composite materials with an aluminum spar and folds to maintain a small footprint in the stowed configuration. Prior to flight, the ground crew member simply unfolds the wing and pins it in position. The wing adds minimal weight but improves the vehicle performance significantly at loiter conditions. Also, the wing houses additional fuel reserves.

The work is being completed at Micro Craft’s San Diego and Ontario facilities where Dr. Allen Zwan, Micro Craft’s UAV Program Manager, leads a cross-functional team responding to opportunities in both the U.S. and Canada. "The interest in our VTOL UAV concept has been tremendous," says Dr. Zwan. "The need for battlefield intelligence, real-time imagery, and tactical support has never been greater as it seems all the services require up-to-the-minute situational information."

The Micro Craft air vehicle system has potential tactical mission roles for the Navy, Marines, Army, Coast Guard, and Border Patrol, as well as many commercial applications. Funded through a combination of internal and contracted research and development, Micro Craft is developing flight vehicles ranging in size from 6 in. (weighing 4 lbs. including a payload) to 5 ft. in diameter (weighing almost 800 lbs.).

In late 1999, Micro Craft was awarded a contract to develop a Micro version of its ducted fan as part of the DARPA Micro Air Vehicle (MAV) program. Micro Craft is teamed with Draper Lab, who will provide micro-avionics and a ground station. A flight demonstration is planned in the Fall of 2000. Micro Craft’s "Small" Lift Augmented Ducted Fan Air Vehicle (SLADF) has many advantages as a small UAV. The vehicle system can be designed to suit a number of performance requirements and is highly scaleable. The shroud (duct) provides unparalleled ground crew safety when contrasted to conventional open rotor designs. The small size of the SLADF permits operation aboard ships, on the ground, in urban areas, or in forested or other confined areas typical of tactical situations while enhancing survivability during flight. With a small footprint for both flight operations and stowage, valuable launch space is also optimized.

Micro Craft is truly excited about the future of this vehicle concept, especially for the smaller, unit-based system requirements. With the development of micro-electronics for guidance and navigation avionics, and miniature Electro-Optical and Infra-Red (EO-IR) payloads, the opportunity to acquire important intelligence information in small, relatively inexpensive packages has never been better.

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