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July 24, 2009 -- The world's first successful flight of a self-powered, rudderless, flapping aircraft has been achieved by engineers from AeroVironment.
The NAV, or nano air vehicle, operates by using two flapping wings, which also function as the rudder, elevators, ailerons and engine. With its two wings, the NAV is able to hover, move forward and backwards, and change its elevation. In flight, the NAV almost appears to replicate the movements of a hummingbird.
"It's extremely complicated and technically challenging to come up with ways to control an aircraft with two flapping wings,"said Matt Keennon of AeroVironment, "but this is the closest anyone has come to a rudderless, flapping aircraft."
AeroVironment wouldn't explain how the two wings accomplish flight, citing its contract with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).
Achieving flight with a rudderless, flapping-wing aircraft is certainly an accomplishment, but like any DARPA-funded project, the defense agency asks for more. Possible applications for this small, maneuverable aircraft could include spying on enemies or finding victims in a natural disaster.