The Air Force Is Developing Bird-Like Microdrones with Flapping Wings


Building off a patent signed in 2014 to create maneuverable wings for unmanned aircraft, the U.S. Air Force’s elite research lab is working with Airion Health LLC to prototype a mini air vehicle that can imitate either insect or bird flight and has the ability to change velocity without the support of a high-powered computer.

The microdrone could be used for surveillance in the field or over military bases; or to stake out targets before personnel or other aircraft get to the battlefield. The latter mission has become a major focus for the Defense Department as it plans for a future conflict with a near-peer competitor. Together with the Air Force Research Lab, Airion — a specialty company leveraging innovative and rapid prototyping solutions for both private industry and the U.S. military — will develop a workable “micro air vehicle,” or MAV, by early 2022, the release states. The company’s other products range from ventilation and respiratory systems to advanced moisture-wicking technologies for warfighters, according to its website. The mini-drone will be remote-controlled, Air Force officials said, giving it the ability to change paths based on the user’s needs. According to the patent, the service is looking for a drone that has only two actuators, which enable mechanical movement, while offering six degrees of flight, meaning it can change position forward or backward, up or down, and left or right.

From a commercial standpoint, drones with such range can maneuver into small, tight spaces such as tunnels or into larger machinery for inspection.