The Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) is developing an unmanned vehicle capable of both aerial and underwater operation. On display at the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International’s annual trade show in Chicago this week, the Flying Sea Glider would be capable of “fast deployment with long-term underwater loiter and egress,” according to an NRL fact sheet.
Still in the research stage, the vehicle incorporates both aerodynamics and hydrodynamics. When airborne, it is powered by a battery and folding propeller. When underwater, the wings fold away and it draws power from a large-volume buoyancy engine and hydrodynamic gliding.
Once perfected and introduced to the inventory, the progeny of the Flying Sea Glider would move in flight twice as fast as unmanned underwater vehicles that glide through the sea. Missions could be carried out more quickly, and the need to subject ships to harm’s way to deploy such vehicles would not be necessary.
At present, work on the vehicle entails use of “novel propulsion concepts” that take advantage of the similarities of in-flight and underwater motion, despite the significant differences between the two. Researchers are seeking a “vehicle with the desired mix of flying range and swimming endurance,” NRL stated in the fact sheet.
The vehicle’s hardware is being glide-tested to make sure its controllers and underwater electronics work properly. Plans call for flight-testing sometime this spring, with a “full mission profile” available later this year.
NRL staff at the AUVSI show were actively seeking partners in industry to help with research, design, and commercialization.
In time, such vehicles would prove useful for a diverse set of missions:
· Searches for downed aircraft.
· Rapid response to environmental disasters.
· Placing underwater gliders upstream in areas with high currents.
· Sampling of the environment in areas that are difficult to access.