It may be inspired by a duck, but a new drone being developed by the Navy is more hunter than prey.
The U.S. Navy’s Flimmer program, a mashup of “flying swimmer,” has created a drone with the ability to travel via air and sea in its intended mission to track down submarines. Currently in development by the Naval Research Laboratory, the drone can fly though the air and land like a seaplane or even plunge directly into the water like a pelican divebombing for food. It can then easily launch back into the sky to continue its airbone reconaissance.
The Flimmer drone may act like a duck, but it has a few upgrades over its feathery inspiration. The craft has flat wings with fins to help it steer in the water and navigate underwater. The fins can also fold up while in flight for better stability and to increase its speed.
A workable prototype of the air-and-sea drone being slated for warfare is called the Flying WANDA, short for “Wrasse-inspired Agile Near-shore Deformable-fin Automaton.” The craft can fly as fast as 57 miles an hour, and paddle at a respectable 11 miles per hour beneath the waves.
Right now the duckbot is only a concept, but the NRL hints it could be used to hunt submarines or act as mobile sonobuoys, devices which use sonar to locate enemies beneath the ocean’s surface or conduct underwater research. Current sonobuoys usually remain where they’re dropped, but a flying aquatic drone could be used to follow a suspected threat around and relay information back to its base.
While the duck served as an early model for the Flying WANDA, Mother Nature has nothing that can meet the significant speed and distance requirements demanded of the project, leaving designers on their own to work out the kinks. But if the military can master the concept, it offers the potential to quickly deploy multi-use drones to survey the seas and the skies above, giving America’s enemies one less place to hide.