NRL Develops Fully Autonomous Compact Electric Helicopter

9/6/2005 - 37-05r
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Researchers at the Naval Research Laboratory's Tactical Electronic Warfare Division (TEWD) have developed an affordably expendable fully autonomous compact electric helicopter system called SPIDER (Scientific Payload Insertion Device Electric Rotor). The helicopter can perform automatic takeoffs, fly up to 50 mph for 30 minutes, hover over a precise location and land autonomously while carrying a 4-pound scientific or countermeasures payload.

According to Mr. Chris Bovais, the SPIDER program manager, "The air vehicle and autopilot flight testing program began at NRL in June 2004. The NRL team implemented autopilot algorithms that were based on a neural adaptive flight controller system. This developmental software was first tested extensively on a surrogate electric model helicopter before being integrated into the new Cloud Cap Technology Piccolo II autopilot for use in the SPIDER system. The addition of an Aerosonde packaged Iridium data modem provides the capability for performing operations beyond RF line of sight communication, enhancing the overall mission capabilities of the helicopter."

The research team reports the SPIDER prototype has successfully completed 97 flights during developmental testing achieving flight speeds of 50 mph. "The wide-speed range and accurate hovering performance that the NRL team has achieved from this small, low-cost avionics package is a major technology advancement," Mr. Bovais said. "SPIDER is a unique system because it is a small, inexpensive, electric helicopter that fits into an easily transportable case, can operate from unimproved terrain and requires no special helicopter pilot training to operate," Mr. Bovais concluded.

SPIDER electric unmanned helicopter hovering during a test flight.

About the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory

The U.S. Naval Research Laboratory provides the advanced scientific capabilities required to bolster our country's position of global naval leadership. The Laboratory, with a total complement of approximately 2,500 personnel, is located in southwest Washington, D.C., with other major sites at the Stennis Space Center, Miss., and Monterey, Calif. NRL has served the Navy and the nation for over 90 years and continues to advance research further than you can imagine. For more information, visit the NRL website or join the conversation on Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube.

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