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The Dead Hand Journal




  RoboSwift steers by sweeping
back one wing more than the
other. The difference in wing
position allows RoboSwift to
make very sharp turns.
(Click picture to view video animation)



The RoboSwift team presented their design at the TU Delft yearly Design Synthesis symposium. The team is constructing the high-tech micro airplane this summer,. And plans to fly in January 2008. The student team will build three RoboSwifts to participate in March 2008 in the First American-Asian Micro Air Vehicle competition in India.

RoboSwift can sweep its wings back and forth, changing the shape and the surface
area. By doing so the airplane can fly more efficiently and more agilely than fixed-
wing aircraft. The airplane is powered by means of a special propeller
that folds during gliding to minimize air drag.

RoboSwift has a wingspan of just under 20 inches and weighs 2.8 ounces. It can fly with a group of Swifts for 20 minutes and fly ground surveillance for an hour, powered by lithium-polymer batteries that power a motor driven propeller. During gliding the propeller folds back to minimize drag.

The Swift inspired the plane’s unique morphing-wing design. The wings sweep back in flight by folding four “feathers” over each other to change wing shape and reduce surface area (Swifts have many more feathers). RoboSwift steers by morphing its wings asymmetrically so that it flies efficiently with high maneuverability at very high and very low speeds – just like the Swift.

RoboSwift carries three onboard micro cameras: two mounted on the wing to look forward
and one in the belly looking downward (indicated by the green cones). By means of a
head mounted display projecting the camera images the pilot can look through
RoboSwift’s cameras from the ground.

The team based their project on research performed by
Wageningen University graduate student David Lentink, who published a study of the Swift’s flight characteristics in Nature, April 2007. During its life, a The common Swift remains aloft virtually its entire life, typically flying a lifetime distance of 2.5 million miles, or about five times to the Moon and back. Lentink found the Swift is such an able flier because it continuously morphs its wings to the prevailing flight conditions. Although a few military aircraft, such as the F14 Tomcat and the English-German Tornado, are equipped with so-called swing wings, no current aircraft significantly reduces wing surface area, thus missing out on the benefits of morphing. With their variable wings, birds can deal with the different conditions encountered during flight, so their efficiency is far greater than any aircraft.

CyberHawk, a radio-controlled flying Ornithopter
(Click picture to view video of CyberHawk in action.)

In his popular science fiction novel Dune, Frank Herbert describes the Ornithopter, a plane that flies like a bird. Today, hobbyists design and build these devices, and talk with one another at On July 8, 2006, James D. DeLaurier from the University of Toronto Institute for Aerospace Studies and Jeremy Harris of the University of Illinois flew the first manned Ornithopter for a grand total of 14 seconds, two seconds longer than the Wright Brothers historic flight. RoboSwift is not an Ornithopter, but unlike any of today’s Ornithopters, RoboSwift morphs its wings. I am standing by for when TU Delft students take the next step, and produce the first true wing-morphing Ornithopter. It will only be a matter of time following that for the model to morph into a full-blown passenger carrying Ornithopter.

C-GPTR – the World’s first “successful” manned Ornithopter.


RoboSwift is a micro airplane fitted with movable wings, inspired by the common Swift, one of nature’s most efficient fliers. Aerospace engineering students at Delft University of Technology (TU Delft) in the city of Delft in South Holland between The Hague and Rotterdam, together with the Department of Experimental Zoology of Wageningen University in the city of Wageningen about 60 miles east of Delft, designed the RoboSwift. The micro airplane has a wing surface area and geometry that can be adjusted continuously, making RoboSwift more maneuverable and efficient than a fixed wing craft. RoboSwift, which resembles the common Swift, can perform surreptitious surveillance on vehicles and people on the ground, and can even observe Swifts in flight, enabling new biological research.

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