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July 31, 2006

Lockheed Martin set to make seed-sized spy plane

Lockheed Martin set to make 1.5 inch long spy plane.

The U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has awarded Lockheed Martin a $1.7-million, 10-month contract to design a remotely controlled nano air vehicle (NAV) that is capable of collecting military intelligence both indoors and in urban outdoor environments.

The team includes Lockheed Martin Advanced Development Programs, Lockheed Martin Advanced Technology Center, Sandia National Laboratories, AeroCraft, ATK Thiokol and the University of Pennsylvania.

Plans call for a chemical rocket enclosed in the NAV's single wing to be able to deliver a sensor payload module more than 1000 yards from the point of release. Besides controlling lift and pitch, the wing will also house telemetry, communications, navigation, imaging sensors, and battery power. The NAV will be about 1.5 inches long and have a maximum takeoff weight of about 0.35 ounces, Lockheed Martin (Bethesda, Md.) said in a press release.

Lockheed Martin said a remote pilot would be able to fly the NAV towards its target by viewing its flight path through a camera embedded in the wing with images transmitted wireless back to the operative. As the system is developed Lockheed Martin expects an autopilot to be included aboard the NAV to provide limited autonomous operations. Once the NAV delivers its payload, it will return to base for collection and refurbishment.

The $1.7 million contract is intended to fund design of prototypes for the engine, the airframe, the flight control system, and the communications system as well as computer models of the guidance system and sensors.

A preliminary design review is planned for summer 2007. After a sequence of go/no-go tests, DARPA may fund an additional 18-month period during which Lockheed Martin would design and test a flying prototype.

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