Engineers at Lockheed Martin Corp. (Bethesda, MD) are developing a tiny remote-controlled device that will be able to collect military intelligence indoors and outdoors. The aircraft will be similar in size and shape to a maple tree seed.

The nano air vehicle (NAV) will be approximately 1.5 inches long and have a maximum takeoff weight of 0.35 ounces. A chemical rocket enclosed in its one-bladed wing will power a sensor payload module more than 1,100 yards.

"Delivered from a hover and weighing up to 0.07 ounces, the module will be interchangeable based on mission requirements," says James Marsh, director of Lockheed Martin's advanced technology laboratories. Besides controlling lift and pitch, the wing will also house telemetry, communications, navigation, imaging sensors and battery power.

In typical operation, a ground-based military technician will launch the NAV and fly it toward a target by viewing its flight path through a camera embedded in the wing. Like a maple tree seed, the one-bladed device will rotate in flight, but its camera will provide a stable forward view and transmit images back to a small, handheld display.

"Eventually, a simple autopilot aboard the NAV will provide limited autonomous operations," notes Marsh. Once the NAV delivers its payload, it will return to the technician for collection and refurbishment.

"Designing and building such a small device will require revolutionary manufacturing technologies to integrate near-microscopic components into the [aircraft]," says Marsh. "Even the airframe will require a challenging combination of new and emerging technologies.

"The challenges are both exciting and daunting, because some of the technologies vital to our success have yet to be discovered," adds Marsh. "We need some of the best minds in manufacturing technology. It will require the development and integration of highly sophisticated, software-driven control technologies and mission systems."