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Toys Science

Studies In Ornithopters 223

Posted by Hemos
from the he-is-the-kwisatz-haderach dept.
weileong writes "This should be of especial interest to fans of Frank Herbert's Dune (or maybe only those who preferred House Atreides) - a genuine, flexible, flapping-capable winged aircraft (by which I don't mean passenger-carrying. Yet.) has been produced by the University of Toronto's Institute for Aerospace Studies and SRI International (Washington Post article, free reg required). Advantages include everything from low speed control to efficiency. Once these things really hit "real world" usage, the V-22 Osprey really HAS no reason to exist (and all the army personnel at risk of dying in one should rejoice)."
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Studies In Ornithopters

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  • Material Fatigue ? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 01, 2003 @08:51AM (#6844165)
    Any man made material exposed that kind of movement is going develop weaknesses (stress cracks) over time. I can see this usefull on a micro level, but to actually carry passengers ...
    • by DoraLives (622001) on Monday September 01, 2003 @10:14AM (#6844561)
      Why oh why did Hemos post that submission from weileong and fail to snip the Once these things really hit "real world" usage, the V-22 Osprey really HAS no reason to exist (and all the army personnel at risk of dying in one should rejoice). garbage from the end of it? Now everybody and their aunt Nellie are off on a toot about the merits of ornithopters as a mode of transportation for HUMANS.

      The article was crystal clear on this.

      Quote: "Mentor came into being in response to a vision of a "fly-on-the-wall spy"

      Quote: "stealth "micro-air vehicles"

      Quote: "Flapping wings offer several advantages over the fixed wings of today's reconnaissance drones"

      Quote: "long toyed with many scenarios, including one in which soldiers would deploy a swarm of camera-equipped robotic insects to probe inaccessible terrain."

      Quote: "... ah, the hell with it! Go ahead and talk about your flying cars as long as you like.

    • by alfredo (18243) on Monday September 01, 2003 @11:23AM (#6844893)
      Imagine trying to keep your drink from spilling. Or what about walking to the bathroom. One good side effect would be the inability of hijackers to get out of their seats, or once out of them, to stand up.

      You want that martini shaken or shaken?
    • by G4from128k (686170) on Monday September 01, 2003 @11:47AM (#6845003)
      Yes and no. Fatigue WAS a major issue in the early years of aviation, but now it is well understood. As long as you have a proper understanding of the material's properties and the stresses induced by the application, then you can design to forestall or eliminate fatigue cracking. Some materials (certain types of steel) actually have infinite fatigue resistance as long as the stresses are below a critical threshold. Stress cracks are not an issue where one can employ a combination of good design, good "life" testing, good operator training, and good inspection/maintenance procedures. I'm not saying that bad things can't happen, just that they are preventable.
  • by WIAKywbfatw (307557) on Monday September 01, 2003 @08:52AM (#6844168) Journal
    Once these things really hit "real world" usage, the V-22 Osprey really HAS no reason to exist (and all the army personnel at risk of dying in one should rejoice)."

    You're assuming that a military ornithopter transport would be safer than the Osprey. A bit of a leap of faith seeing as it hasn't even got past the university project stage.
    • I get the point you're making, but the way I see it is, "flapping wings" basically are generally maneuverable in a way fixed-wing aircraft aren't and "were never meant to be".

      In a fundamental sense (at least the way I see it) the flap-wing aircraft would just be doing things "within parameters" though, yes, it's at a "university project" stage now.
      • "Flapping wings" are also at least an order of magnitude more technically complex than a conventional fixed-frame "spinning blades" (e.g. every other non-rocket powered aircraft in existence) design.

        A design like this isn't going to be ready for military use for 50 years, if ever.

  • No pictures?? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by martingunnarsson (590268) <martin&snarl-up,com> on Monday September 01, 2003 @08:53AM (#6844172) Homepage
    How come stories about cool things like this never have any pictures?? I really want to see the little machine!

    Googling...

    Could this [reallycooltoys.com] be it?
  • by meckardt (113120) on Monday September 01, 2003 @08:55AM (#6844180) Homepage

    Remember Edgar Rice Burrough's Mars books?

  • Wrong branch (Score:4, Informative)

    by benj_e (614605) <walt@eis.gmail@com> on Monday September 01, 2003 @08:55AM (#6844182) Journal
    It's the Marines that use the Osprey, not the Army.
    • Re:Wrong branch (Score:2, Informative)

      by HerrKobes (589049)
      Actually, the USAF and USN will use them as well.

      MV-22 is slated for Marine usage, the CV-22 is for the USAF, and the USN is looking at an HV-22 variant for Combat Search and Rescue (CSAR).

      The USAF version, the CV-22, will be operated by the USAF under US Special Operations Command.
  • The V22? (Score:5, Informative)

    by Realistic_Dragon (655151) on Monday September 01, 2003 @08:57AM (#6844194) Homepage
    No need for the V22? Hardly.

    The V22 is _finally_ getting to the mature design stage. They removed the problems that killed people (mostly, no a/c is perfect) like the inability to handle the loss of ground effect under one rotor.

    Now they have an a/c which can not only take off vertically (or very sharply with high load), fly at 400mph and carry a ton of stuff. For it's role it beats the shit out of any helicopter (fast enough to do the job more fuel efficient, heavier loads,) and and cargo plane (no need for a JATO unit, can't run a C5 off a carrier).

    This new technology is (like the tilt rotor concept was) unproven, and requires a complex set of engineering decisions to be made to get it to fly safley (like the tilt rotor). In 20 years, with a few deaths, it might be great - but the tilt rotor is here now.

    FWIW there is now a commercial version of the V22 in prototype, the BA commuter aircraft. Small enough to land on helipads, but fast enough for intercity (and in Europe) international work. There have also been plans for a gunship version of the V22, with a massive rotary cannon and the ability to fly very slow it's even going to make the A-10 look a bit lightweight :oD
    • Re:The V22? (Score:5, Funny)

      by babbage (61057) <cdevers.cis@usouthal@edu> on Monday September 01, 2003 @09:20AM (#6844291) Homepage Journal
      They removed the problems that killed people (mostly, no a/c is perfect)

      I think it's far to say that any conditioner that could ever hurt people, nevermind kill them, is very far from perfect indeed.

      A/C just isn't worth dying for, I don't care how hot the summer was.

      • Re:The V22? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Angram (517383) on Monday September 01, 2003 @09:53AM (#6844441)
        A/C just isn't worth dying for, I don't care how hot the summer was.
        Tell that to the 12,000 or so people in France who died during the heatwave.
      • They removed the problems that killed people (mostly, no a/c is perfect)
        I think it's far to say that any conditioner that could ever hurt people, nevermind kill them, is very far from perfect indeed.


        He wasn't talking about aircon, you fool.

        AC stands for Anonymous Coward. They're a dangerous bunch, you know...
        • As amusing as that all is, A/C is a very common shorthand for aircraft (and the slash makes every bit as much sense as it does when referring to an air conditioner--none).

          After spending 5 years chasing a BSAE in college, believe it or not, when i was done, 'aircraft' was the first thing i thought of when seeing 'a/c'. that said, i did think it was weird the first time i saw it.
    • Absurd (Score:5, Informative)

      by SuperBanana (662181) on Monday September 01, 2003 @09:29AM (#6844327)
      No need for the V22? Hardly. The V22 is _finally_ getting to the mature design stage. They removed the problems that killed people (mostly, no a/c is perfect) like the inability to handle the loss of ground effect under one rotor.

      Your argument is all and well, except that aircraft ARE virtually perfect- it's the ones that are NOT perfect that we hear about. Second, when an aircraft is NOT perfect, you're supposed to fix it. The contractor involved and the armed forces instead outright lied through their teeth and ignored the problems while soldiers continued to die. Lastly, the problems were far more extensive than just one issue with ground effect.

      There have also been plans for a gunship version of the V22, with a massive rotary cannon and the ability to fly very slow it's even going to make the A-10 look a bit lightweight

      One of the warthog's best features is its heavy armour- some jokingly call it the 'flying bathtub' because of the cockpit reenforcement. I believe most hydraulic and electrical systems are also heavily armoured. It takes more than just a plane to make an effective way to shoot at people. Nevermind that the V22 looks to be completely intolerant of failure in either engine- and as any pilot knows, twin engined planes have twice as many engine failures because, surprise, you've got two of 'em :-) I'd be curious to hear your thoughts on how someone would eject from the V22 without standing a good chance of being sliced to pieces.

      As for the original poster's comment that this will replace the V22- I hardly see how. Ever notice that 'Ornithopters' in nature don't really exist above a dozen pounds or so? Sure, we had some big flying dinosaurs a while back, but even those weren't nearly big enough to weigh as much as a small plane.

      • Re:Absurd (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 01, 2003 @09:35AM (#6844357)
        The contractor involved and the armed forces instead outright lied through their teeth and ignored the problems while soldiers continued to die.

        And the ornithopter, being a different design, clearly will not have this fault.

      • Re:Absurd (Score:5, Informative)

        by bbaskin (24236) <bryanbaskin@sbcfreakingglob a l . net> on Monday September 01, 2003 @09:40AM (#6844372) Homepage
        The V-22 or any other Bell twin engined tiltrotor to date can fly on one engine. The two rotors are cross shafted together so that both rotors remain in synch and powered at all times. A quad tiltrotor has been considered and that aircraft (C-130 sized) would have all four engines and rotors cross-shafted so that several engines could be lost without losing the aircraft.

        That said, the V-22 will not be a A-10 replacement. That simply makes no sense. A gunship version has been proposed but it's more along the lines of an AC-130 gunship. Orbit higher and a little futher away from the targets. More of an area weapon for softer targets not getting down and dirty with heavy armor. The 'Hog is tops for that.

        Early test V-22s did have ejection seats. The rotors do not pass above the cockpit so there is a small path in VTOL mode and obviously a larger path in airplane mode for a safe ejection. Current production ships no longer carry this feature and like any other cargo ship, there were never plans to eject all the passengers.
      • "The contractor involved and the armed forces instead outright lied through their teeth and ignored the problems while soldiers continued to die."

        Cite where Bell in any way lied or otherwise acted improperly in regards the V22. Every document I've seen was clear that Bell was on the up & up and was in no way responsible or supportive of the deceitful military program managers.

        • Cite where Bell in any way lied or otherwise acted improperly in regards the V22.

          How about the 177 "flight critical" safety failures, or the 723 "critical component" failures? http://www.insidedefense.com/public/special16.asp

          That woulod be the "ignored the problems" part. How on earth could to ethically allow someone to use a plane which has such a staggering number of defects? Let's not even get into the gross incompetence aspect.

          Bell could have spoken up at ANY time to say "this bird ain't ready t

          • Um, the bird isn't ready to fly operationally, that is why you do flight testing and approval. You can't test the plane and get the bugs out without, well testing the plane.

            And you can't tell whether the number of failures sited is excessive without the ability to compare then to previous similar aircraft / helicopters during the same stage of their development.

            Some of the examples mentioned in the article are fuel, oil, hydraulic leaks and a door that sometimes could be opened. While these can cause a
      • Re:Absurd (Score:2, Insightful)

        by xepherys (687089) *
        Ever notice that 'Ornithopters' in nature don't really exist above a dozen pounds or so? Sure, we had some big flying dinosaurs a while back, but even those weren't nearly big enough to weigh as much as a small plane. Did you ever notice that "rocket propulsion" and "propellers" and "the wheel" and "combustion engines" in nature don't really exist at all? It's mankinds ability to overcome natural limits with man-made creations that seperate us from apes my friend!
        • Re:Absurd (Score:3, Insightful)

          by willtsmith (466546)
          Propellers:
          The seeds from Maple trees are natural propellers that perform "auto-gyro" landings.

          The Wheel:
          Rocks will often get pulverized into fairly round chunks forming spheres (2-d) wheels. Dung beetles will create ball shaped collections of crap and roll them back to their dens.

          Combustion Engines:
          Inside the cells of most biological organisms is a chemical combustion engine capable of transforming hydrocarbons (with oxygen) into energy. The stroking piston action is very natural and can be observed in
    • Re:The V22? (Score:5, Informative)

      by bbaskin (24236) <bryanbaskin@sbcfreakingglob a l . net> on Monday September 01, 2003 @09:29AM (#6844330) Homepage
      The cause of the Arizona accident that killed 19 Marines was a form of vortex ring state that formed around one proprotor that caused an imbalance of lift from one side to the other. The ship rolled sharply and nosed in. All helos are susceptible to VRS and it forms when you are travelling down too fast in combination with low forward airspeed. At the time, the Osprey had a vertical descent rate limit of 800 ft/min at low forward airspeeds. The ship in question was descending at ~2100 ft/min, almost three times the recommended rate. Pilot error. The other crash later that year was due to a combination of hydraulic and software failures that reduced the redundancy of some control systems.

      The VRS has now been shown to not be a symptom of tiltrotors only, its boundaries have been mapped out, warning sensors have been installed, and VRS exit strategies developed. In a helo, you just gain some forward speed or sideward speed. In a tiltrotor you have the additional option of tilting the nacelles a few degrees. In addition, plenty of improvements have been made to all sorts of subsystems and the computers have been through the cleaners to check for more bugs.

      The commuter ship, the BA609, will also benefit from these studies. It's target certification date is late 2007. That date is so distance for a variety of reasons, most of them non-technical.

      Tiltrotors are complicated, but I've flown the BA609 sim, and it's by far the easiest VTOL aircraft I've flown and the capabilities are impressive.
    • Re:The V22? (Score:5, Informative)

      by Martin Blank (154261) on Monday September 01, 2003 @09:58AM (#6844484) Journal
      For it's role it beats the shit out of any helicopter (fast enough to do the job more fuel efficient, heavier loads,) and and cargo plane (no need for a JATO unit, can't run a C5 off a carrier).

      First point correct, second point misses the mark. The C-5 (and the C-17 and C-141) are entirely different classes of aircraft than the V-22. The V-22 is designed more to set troops into action like a conventional helicopter such as the Black Hawk does, though I believe it's possible to parachute from them. The other three are primarily cargo aircraft with secondary airborne capacity. Their ranges also beat out the Osprey's.

      There have also been plans for a gunship version of the V22, with a massive rotary cannon and the ability to fly very slow it's even going to make the A-10 look a bit lightweight

      That's also going to require putting a lot of armor onto an Osprey, and I don't know if it can handle that. Your performance statistics seem to be off of the real mark, judging by the Navy's version of things [navy.mil]. With a max speed of only 275mph, and what looks to be a fairly small difference between the empty and various max-takeoff weights, I don't see this becoming a challenge to the A-10 anytime soon, since that plane not only carries the GAU-8/A (with its weight of 281kg plus a kilo for every round), but also up to 7250kg of payload underneath it. I've seen pictures of them with a bevy of Mavericks slung underneath, and it's a menacing sight.

      Getting back to the original story topic, though, I can't see yet how this idea would translate into a usable large aircraft as the submitter is hoping. The forces are significantly higher at the wingtip than at the root which is going to stress the wings in an increasing fashion the longer they are, not to mention the material fatigue from a material that is constantly changing directions. I can see this used as they envision now, with small drones or perhaps as a new ultralight, but I can't see how the increased lift would be generated efficiently for a replacement to even a small troop transport like the Osprey.
    • Re:The V22? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Tenebrious1 (530949) on Monday September 01, 2003 @10:22AM (#6844591) Homepage
      No need for the V22? Hardly.

      Come on, give the submitter a break. They did say when orithopters hit the "real world", V22s wouldn't be needed.

      Yeah, 500 years in the future when micro-fusion produces the massive amounts of energy needed to drive an ornithopter capable of hauling 22 fully loaded marines, when we spin nano-tech fibers strong enough to withstand the vibrations yet light enough to beat without huge inertia... yes, by then there'll be no need for a 490 year old v22 fleet.

    • Actually, the Navy had some tilt wing aircraft in the 60s but never really pursued them. It's by no means a new concept, it's just found a new customer.

      The V-22 and tilt wing aircraft in general promise a heavy "rapid-deployment" capability over much longer halls. I would expect to see tilt wing turbine craft operating in the future.
  • by Kaboom13 (235759) <kaboom108@@@bellsouth...net> on Monday September 01, 2003 @08:59AM (#6844201)
    Is there a way to mod the last half of this article -1 offtopic? Training and testing accidents are the norm for any new plane or helicopter, especially something as innovative as the Osprey. Look at how many people died to make the Harrier. A google search for Harrier deaths will reveal plenty of evidence if you don't believe me. I'm sure plenty will die trying to get ornithopters off the ground (if they ever get built).
    • Um, no. The harrier only started to have problems when the USMC took it over and attempted air-frame limiting manouvers. Essentially the use of vectored thrust in flight to make very fast changes of direction (i.e., for missile avoidance) did give some problems. The RAF didn't seem to have the same problems (although they did have accidents).
  • by fuqqer (545069) on Monday September 01, 2003 @09:01AM (#6844213) Homepage
    Holy crap I knew the story was old. Slow news day? This verges on antiquity with a 2001 story date. Maybe the slashdot editors could rename the tagline - "No Gnus is nerd Gnus"

    Here [slashdot.org] is the original slashdot story.

    Here [ornithopter.net] is a link to the ornithopter website.
  • by BoosterToad (304930) on Monday September 01, 2003 @09:03AM (#6844223) Homepage
    This article has a picture of the ornithopter:

    Mentor Micro-Air Vehicle [popsci.com]

    Wow, it looks weird.
  • But on Mars? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by immel (699491) on Monday September 01, 2003 @09:05AM (#6844230)
    "centuries of evolution have produced structures and systems that work very well."
    Centuries of evolution on Earth have produced structures and systems that work very well on Earth. People have spent decades, possibly centuries, developing flapping-wing vehicles that, even now, barely fly on Earth, and someone wants to send them to Mars in 6 years (2009)? I think a sailplane-like vehicle would still be much more effective.
  • by kfg (145172) on Monday September 01, 2003 @09:06AM (#6844233)
    he might have noted that there are no plans to build larger versions of these things. The entire point is small "insect sized" spy drones.

    Various small ornithopers have been built. You can even buy toy windup versions. In small sizes they work.

    They do not scale. There is no known way to make them scale. Neither the physics nor the engineering support the idea of producing large amounts of lift be rapidly anad violently flapping around large inertial masses.

    Not to mention the fact that in the large scale the problem has been solved already with the rotating wing.

    I haven't a clue how thousands of pounds of rapidly flapping metal could be deemed to be potentially safer than the Osprey, particulary given the sorts of mechanisms that would be required to drive them.

    KFG
  • by jacobdp (698004) on Monday September 01, 2003 @09:06AM (#6844236)
    An excellent Magic card, too! 0/2 flying artifact creature for 0.

    As a blocker, it can't be beat.
  • V-22 (Score:5, Informative)

    by Ribald (140704) on Monday September 01, 2003 @09:09AM (#6844250)
    The Osprey's had trouble for a reason--it's horribly complex, and there's never been an aircraft like it before (outside the X-planes, that is). An aircraft that transitions from a conventional airplane to a would-be helicopter has a lot of control issues to work out.

    The poster's theory that the ornithopter will somehow make this superfluous is a bit ludicrous. An ornithopter large enough to carry troops will likely be even more complex. Taking the output from a turbine engine and gearing it down to spin a prop is trivial--we've been doing it for decades. Even with the complicated transmissions and crosslinks and control systems on the V-22, it's still basically just a combinatinon and evolution of previous aircraft.

    Taking output from a turbine and translating it to drive a piston is another matter. It can be done, of course, but entails much higher losses. The researcher says enormous amounts of energy are required for the small one, and it's, um, small.

    The strength of the parts is another issue. Making wings and linkages that will drive them is going to be a challenge. As will performance after an engine failure.

    Don't get me wrong, this is quite an achievement. For the unmanned aerial vehicle trade. I don't think we'll have the technology to make a troop transport, or even a one-man aircraft, out of an ornithopter for a long time.

    Trying to foist this as a replacement for the Osprey is a bit ludicrous. Replacing a complicated aircraft with a more complicated one does not lend itself to safety or reliability, right out of the box.
  • by wadiwood (601205) on Monday September 01, 2003 @09:11AM (#6844255) Journal
    story with pictures [onlineathens.com]
    This thing seems to go back to at least July.
    The picture looks like something we could build with alfoil from the kitchen, a broken umbrella and a toy aeroplane engine. Maybe we need video too. Anyone got Video?

    And just because you can't think of a good use (non military) doesn't mean there isn't one. Mark Twain had trouble imagining what use a telephone would get, and Bill Gates didn't believe in the internet for a long time.
    • A picture of what they're aiming for and a video of what they've got [caltech.edu] I think we're perfectly safe for a while from these things. Of Course Aussies can handle a fly swat or rolled newspaper with ease, so they're not safe from us, or our blue heelers.
    • And just because you can't think of a good use (non military) doesn't mean there isn't one. Mark Twain had trouble imagining what use a telephone would get, and Bill Gates didn't believe in the internet for a long time.

      A good point. Let's all brainstorm then.

      Imagine -- just for the sake of argument -- that it were possible to build a device that could lift off from the ground and fly from one point to another, much like a bird or an insect.

      Imagine also that such a device could be built large enough t

  • evolution (Score:5, Funny)

    by Scrameustache (459504) on Monday September 01, 2003 @09:15AM (#6844273) Homepage Journal
    she says, "centuries of evolution have produced structures and systems that work very well."

    Centuries of evolution?

    Wow! They've found a young-earth darwinist! : )
  • by slb (72208) * on Monday September 01, 2003 @09:16AM (#6844274) Homepage
    > the V-22 Osprey really HAS no reason to exist

    Ridiculous comparison, this technology is designed to build micro-drones while the Osprey is supposed to lift tons of armament and passengers !
  • by GameGod0 (680382) on Monday September 01, 2003 @09:22AM (#6844298)
    Maybe they don't want to produce it because of pressure from the U.S.

    Dare I say Avro Arrow [avroarrow.org]?

    The Avro Arrow was a plane produced by Canada that was years ahead of its time. Unfortunately, because of the immense pressure from the U.S. (they didn't want Canada to sell the technology to other countries), the project got shut down.

    Yes, there's a little more to it than that, but that's the basic jist.

    Read more about the Avro Arrow and the politics behind it at wikipedia [wikipedia.org].
    • by Anonymous Coward
      Did you read the rest of the article?

      That part that says that the US wanted to buy Arrows just to convince Canada to keep the program alive?

      That part that says that the cancellation of the Arrow might not have harmed Canada's aerospace industry, as it is now the 3rd largest makers of aeroplanes (after the US and France)?

      The part that says that spending money on the program was eating up a large and unsustainable portion of the government's spending?

      Another note to add, not in that article (but available
    • The Avro Arrow was a plane produced by Canada that was years ahead of its time. Unfortunately, because of the immense pressure from the U.S. (they didn't want Canada to sell the technology to other countries), the project got shut down.

      From the article you linked to:

      As costs rose, other divisions of the armed forces saw their own budgets cut, and even groups inside the RCAF in charge of European operations were worried that there would be no money left over for a new tactical fighter needed there. In

  • by teamhasnoi (554944) * <(teamhasnoi) (at) (yahoo.com)> on Monday September 01, 2003 @09:22AM (#6844299) Homepage Journal
    Why not take the head of a dragonfly, attach it to a flying frame/interface, put some VR goggles on it and show it pictures of hot dragonly chicks just ahead of where you want to go?

    Isn't someone already doing something like this with cockroaches? It seems to me that we should just use the heads of people and animals to pilot all of our transportation. Who wouldn't like Dale Earnhardt's head driving you to the store and to pick up the kids?

    Oh. Nevermind.

  • V-22 Complexity (Score:3, Interesting)

    by ansible (9585) on Monday September 01, 2003 @09:25AM (#6844309) Journal

    I think the V-22 has had problems just because it is too complex.

    You've got two jet-turbines, which can each power both rotors. So you've got a very complex power distribution system. Lots of stuff in those pods which rotate, so lots of flexible connections which can break.

    I would have preferred to see a design with six or so smaller ducted fans. So even if you lose one on each side (due to small arms fire, for example) you still have enough power to maneuver and land safely. Two or three lost on one side would need ballistically deployed parachutes to land.

    Hmph. I've just described a Moller skycar [moller.com]. The production version hasn't flown yet. But with relatively modest funding, I bet it could. Still got a complex computer control system, so who knows what bugs might lurk there.

  • by ehintz (10572) on Monday September 01, 2003 @09:33AM (#6844342) Homepage
    CarterCopter [cartercopters.com]

    I don't believe it will go quite as fast as the V-22, but mechanically it's a much simpler design, more of a morph between a gyrocopter and fixed wing. In the 2-engine variety it will do a true hover, and they expect it to scale up into the C-130 size range or so. And manned experimental versions have been flying for a year or two now, even at Oshkosh.
    • I don't see how they'll hit 350mph with that large rotor wobbling up and down in the air stream. Unless somehow its locked in place it'll
      cause all sorts of dynamics issues plus it'll need to have a way of controlling blade pitch just like a helicopter (otherwise when locked you'll get torque issues) which means
      it'll be just as complex as a chopper internally.

      If gyrocopters were the solution I'm damn sure boeing would have used them as the V22 project could hardly be called cheap.
  • by Viol8 (599362) on Monday September 01, 2003 @09:36AM (#6844359)
    I'm sorry , but just as wheels are far more efficient running along smooth roads and rails than any combination of legs would be then
    flight using fixed wings wings far more efficient than flapping for the sort of aircraft capable of carrying people or cargo. People should bear in mind
    that just because nature comes up with a particular solution does NOT mean its the best one. Wings only exist in nature because continuous rotary motion using vertibrate
    muscle - bone structure is simply impossible therefor the next best thing evolved - backwards and forwards motion of wings. Evolution comes up with the "good enough" solution , not the best.
    • Sorry , that should have read "Wings only flap in nature because ....", not "exist". Doh.
    • flight using fixed wings wings far more efficient than flapping

      Your proof is?

      Wings may not be perfect, but they do a great job of some tasks - such as hovering - that fixed wing aircraft are lousy at.

      If you read the article, it suggests small unmaned spy craft - where hovering is essential.
      • "Your proof is?"

        Flapping requires moving the mass of the wings up and down. None of the kenetic energy that isn't passed to the air is retained on the
        opposing stroke and its all lost as heat in the muscles. Compare that to a rotary engine that just keeps turning.

        "that fixed wing aircraft are lousy at."

        And so you use a rotory craft. Theres also the minor issue of how the hell the thing would take off from the ground if its flapping wings could
        only flap to a small angle until its airborn. Ie when it
  • by scruffyMark (115082) on Monday September 01, 2003 @09:45AM (#6844397)
    The site refused to let me in when I said I was born in 1897 - enter a valid year of birth, it insisted. Well, how is it to know I'm not in fact 106?

    It was perfectly happy to let me read the article as a 101-year old though...

  • by c_king (540716) <chyld@atomice[ ].com ['dit' in gap]> on Monday September 01, 2003 @09:51AM (#6844434)
    ornithopter.org [ornithopter.org]
  • by G4from128k (686170) on Monday September 01, 2003 @10:06AM (#6844524)
    Ornithopters do and will work. Materials fatigue, control issues, mechanical design, aerodynamic optimization are are solvable problems. Flapping flight exploits some important aerodynamic properties that provide much higher lift than is possible with fixed wings with steady-flow. Unsteady flow aerodynamics explains the very successful flight abilities of the Bumblebee, despite the assumption-laden proofs against this fuzzy little nectar collecter.

    But whether ornithopers will ever carry humans in any quantity is doubtful because the ride will, to say the least, be sickeningly bumpy. The unsteady flows over the flapping wings mean cyclic forces on the fuselage and cyclic accelerations for the passengers. The ride will be much much worse than that of a helicopter and more like the ride in a small boat riding a very rough swell. Other flapping organism don't mind the vibration and cyclic motion of flight as they are evolved to tolerate it. In contrast the human propioception system will definitely hurl when subjected to the "graceful" up and down motion of a large-scale flapping machine.

    Ornithopters will make really cool recon drones, whether over battlefields or Mars, but they will make horrible passenger vehicles
    • BS. You can't scale up ornithopters exploiting unsteady flow dynamics you mention unless you scale kinematic viscosity and compressibility of air in the process (which -of course- one can't.) Ornithopters may be the future of Jovian avionics but they can't fly humans on Earth and offer bumblebee dynamics at the same time.
    • But whether ornithopers will ever carry humans in any quantity is doubtful because the ride will, to say the least, be sickeningly bumpy.

      That's the least of the problem. Consider this:

      • Humming Bird: Many flaps per second.
      • Sparrow: A flap per second or less.
      • Condor, or albatross: 0 flaps per second.

      Perhaps evolution is giving you a small hint here?

  • I went the UofT aerospace institute, and occasionally would lead tours through the various labs. That one was always the most popular. They'd fire up one of the micro air vehicles (restrained on a metal rod), turn off the lights and put a strobe light on it, so it 'froze' the motion. It's pretty cool to see what is happening with clap and peel they talked about in the article. It was hard work for the grad students on the project, though. They would have to make the little carbon fibre ribs and glue th
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Some experimental aircraft and rotorcraft use insect vision for flight control [unizh.ch]
  • by sonicattack (554038) on Monday September 01, 2003 @10:43AM (#6844680) Homepage
    ..they should rename the 'thopter from "Mentor" to "Mentat".
  • by thelizman (304517) <`moc.oohay' `ta' `kcattaremmah'> on Monday September 01, 2003 @10:51AM (#6844722) Homepage
    I don't know who the flaming moron is who wrote this article, but they are woefully ignorant of...my god, they're just woefull ignorant.

    For starters, the US Army does not have any personnel at risk from the V-22 Osprey, because the US Army is forbidden by Congressional Mandate from operating fixed-wing aircraft. The US Marine Corps is spearheading the operational deployment of the Osprey. Also, the US Navy and Air Force are evaluating prototypes.

    The next idiocy is the implication (likely based in outright aviation ignorance) that the V-22 is at all an unsafe aircraft, or even more outlandish - that an untested and infinitely more complex aircraft design is going to be safer. The V-22 Osprey has an outstanding record for a fixed-wing VSTOL aircraft, and considering it is a new type of VSTOL (of which none have every peen deployed, and only a small series of research prototypes have been based on), it is without saying that thus far the aircraft has peformed very well.

    That one insipid litany of ignorance ruined what would have otherwise been a decent article - except that really, Slashdot has been going down the tubes when it comes to "quality" articles for a while now. If you get that many submissions in a day, you'd think you could weed out the pedestrian ones like this, or at least trim the fat off the meat.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      OK OK OK. I think we all get it. You've made it clear that "slashdot has been going down" faster than a *Marine* pilot flying a V-22.
    • The Army/Air Force aircraft division was first codified in the "Key West Agreement", which was a deal cut between Air Force and Army generals in 1948. It's currently in DoD Directive 5100.1. [dtic.mil] It's not a Congressional mandate. Nor is it as rigid as it used to be. The Army has always had unarmed fixed-wing assets. The close air support controversy continues, but that's beyond the scope of this posting. As for the Osprey, the Army was at one point planning to procure 231 Ospreys, but they cancelled years ago
  • by fygment (444210) on Monday September 01, 2003 @11:12AM (#6844832)
    Some grip on reality is needed here. Especially for any article with a quote like, "It dawned on me that the key to survival and victory in today's battlefield is information," said Garcia That pearl of wisdom has been around in written form since Sun Tzu [sonshi.com] so what vaccuum has this person been working in? That aside look at the various conceptual flaws in the article.

    "nature can provide ready-made solutions." is a comment made in many fields including computer science. The problem is that nature developed solutions for a carbon based lifeform. Imitations in silicon, steel, polymers cannot hope to achieve the same results. Flocks of birds do fly but they also eat and their cells reproduce and die. Steel and silicon simply dissipate energy (with nothing close to a Krebs cycle [demon.co.uk] for renewal) and wear out (since repair or replacement of steel or silicon is hideously demanding of energy). So on a very fundamental level, solutions found in nature do not completely translate to the current materials of technology. You can get aspects of them, like the imitation of flapping flight, but not the whole package.

    But lest you think, "Fine. We'll go with _some_ of the benefits." Think: what are they? The article says Flapping wings allow insects and birds to fly at low speeds, hover, make sharp turns and even fly backward. The latter cite trying to imitate a hummingbird's flight. A hummingbird's flight can already be imitated by helicopters and even the V-22 Osprey. But both the helicopter and the Osprey achieve the desired result (within bounds dictated by inertia and thrust-to-weight ratios) with a structure evolved for maximum efficiency given the materials i.e. the propeller. Even if you are utterly fanatic and feel that flapping is the way to go, consider further the imitation of a hummingbird. The birds virtually eat constantly [144.90.137.57]. In fact, you could argue that the researchers haven't looked to nature very closely for their solutions. Even if you could translate the physical properties of a hummingbird to a machine, nature itself demonstrates that the energy requirements are huge for that type of flight. At least the researchers acknowledge this at the end of the article but the impression is more that it is an afterthought rather than an evident truth even before the research had started.

    And is the flapping flight really the goal of ornithopters in this article? In this article it's a flock of small, lightweight robots hovering over Martian land rovers and guiding them to places of interest that seems to be the pitch. So what advantage do ornithopters have over other "eye in the sky" objects like helicopters, blimps, gliders, or high power satellite cameras? There don't seem to be any.

    At this point one might even ask, how appropriate is a solution inspired by nature (on Earth) to the environment on Mars? Environments on Earth that are similar to Mars don't have an abundance of life because there isn't much to support the energy requirements of life. Therefore a solution based on "nature" is arguably inappropriate.

    And finally, Mars exploration has top priority at the CSA. Sorry but Canada officially bowed out of its option to participate in the Mars exploration program via lack of federal funding [css.ca]. Maybe some Canadian companies will keep their hand in without the CSA but odds are NASA will buy American, and why not?

    (As for the submitter's comments, let's put on our thinking caps people. What kind of ride would people in the hull of a flapping aircraft get? Replacement for the Osprey indeed!)
  • Not exactly new... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Onikuma (699576) on Monday September 01, 2003 @11:19AM (#6844872)
    Intercept Technologies also has a working ornithopter. It was featured on TechTV, and a number of other places earlier this year. It looks a lot cooler too ;) http://www.intercept-technologies.com/index2.html
  • by Rogerborg (306625) on Monday September 01, 2003 @11:56AM (#6845056) Homepage

    These are small military machines. Their purpose is to enhance our ability to kill people that piss us off.

    The martian exploration stuff is flim flam, because, as they themselves say, this is about the most inefficient way we could possible devise of flying about. Efficient flying animals hardly flap their wings at all. In contrast Hummingbirds drink eighty seven times their own weight in a cocktail of cocaine and Red Bull each day just to stay alive. And if you're not sure of my grasp of mathematics or biology there, consider that the alternative is believing someone who says "centuries of evolution have produced structures and systems that work very well".

    Ornithopters are essentially cool-but-useless at the human scale. Yes, everyone said the Wright brothers were crazy too, but the thing is, the Wright brothers looked at ways of improving on the results of (literally hundreds of years of!) random evolution. Merely mimicking it just seems to produce a lot of problems, and fixing them appears to give a solution that's worse than what we already have.

    Good luck to the people that get to play with these, but really, we should just stick to the much more credible miniature black helicopters [zapatopi.net].

  • I'm lusting to get one of these to fly around in my back yard: http://www.cybird-shop.com/ [cybird-shop.com]
  • The Cartercopter [cartercopters.com] is a real piece of cutting-edge aviation technology... combining fixed-wings with a hybrid powered + autogyro rotor. Gonna be the first rotorcraft to break the one mu barrier too.

    The preliminary jet-powered design looks pretty promising too. [cartercopters.com]

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from a rigged demo.

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