An unmanned fixed-wing aircraft that has mastered air and sea travel has been developed by North Carolina State University researchers.
Dubbed the EagleRay XAV, the scalable device boasts a 59-inch wingspan, measures 55 inches long, and weighs 12.6 pounds. It moves through the air and water with a dual-use propeller, powered by an electric motor.
“We’re currently developing a custom controller for the EagleRay,” says Warren Weisler, a Ph.D. student at NC State who worked on the EagleRay project. “Existing controllers aren’t designed for a vehicle that transitions from air to sea and back again—they’re designed to be one or the other, with no transition stage.”
According to Weisler, an aircraft uses a lot of energy trying to maintain aerial surveillance. The EagleRay alleviates this consumption by conserving energy within the water.
“For example, the EagleRay could track a fast-moving pod of dolphins from the air, then spend time loitering in the water if the dolphins stop to take advantage of a good feeding spot. The EagleRay could then resume flight when the dolphins begin moving again,” says Weisler.
The EagleRay can also perform underwater surveillance and transport an array of underwater sensors, which consolidates previous water-based tactics.
“For example, sonar only works underwater. If you’re seeking a sonar target, the EagleRay could fly to a site, submerge to take sonar readings, and then resume flight to take readings elsewhere. Historically, an aircraft would have to drop sonobuoys to collect sonar data,” says William Stewart, another Ph.D. student at NC State who worked on the project,
After starting the project in 2014, the NC State team published a paper of a fully functional prototype just a few years later. Now, researchers are trying to refine the current vehicle design for prediction and training purposes.
Filed Under: Aerospace + defense