Icelandic Startup Pursuing Development Of Bird-Like UAS

Silent Flyer

Credit: Flygildi

LONDON—An Icelandic startup is attempting to develop an uncrewed aircraft system (UAS) that will mimic the flight of a bird. 

Twelve years in development, the Silent Flyer platform could be a means of performing intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) almost silently and without being noticed, according to Flygildi. It resembles a bird and is the same size as a seagull.

The company has patented what CEO Bjorg Ormslev Asgeirsdottir describes as an 11-deg.-of-freedom flight control mechanism so that the system’s main wings can flap, twist, sweep and move the wingtips like ailerons, while the tail has 3 deg. of movement, including pitch, yaw, and roll.  

The four axes of control on each of the two main wings plus three on the tail add up to 11. 

“We have been working on this for 12 years ... now we think we need two more years to bring this to market,” Asgeirsdottir told Aerospace DAILY at the DroneX trade show here Sept. 26, where the system was being displayed publicly for the first time.

“We have successfully proven we can use the approach using a carousel,” she added. Company video shows the development prototype’s flapping mechanism providing thrust to power the system in forward flight. 

The company displayed a model at the event in the shape of a seagull, with engineers saying they believe it is currently the smallest size the system can be scaled down to. It is being supported by Indiana’s Purdue University.

“Our system looks like a bird and flies like a bird. It operates silently and unnoticed,” Asgeirsdottir said. “Any UAS with propellers or rotors is easily heard and noticed, and people who are being watched see it and move on.” 

Another potential mission for the Silent Flyer could be as an airport bird scarer, with the Silent Flight mimicking a bird of prey to frighten birds away from airfield perimeters. 

Engineers say the main challenge is developing a flight control system that can accommodate the additional axis of control in the main wing. If successful, the system will be able to hover, swoop down at high speed and soar like a bird. 

How it will be launched is still to be decided. But hand launched or by catapult is the most likely initial option, engineers say. Flapping would then be used to gain altitude and soaring for endurance, although the company has no data available on how long it might fly.  

Asgeirsdottir said it may be possible to install payloads of up to 200 grams on the system, which itself is expected to weigh around 1-1.2 kg. (2.2-2.6 lb.)

Other companies are pursuing similar ideas. UK-based Animal Dynamics developed its Skeeter UAS as a potential ISR platform, mimicking the characteristics of a dragonfly.

Tony Osborne

Based in London, Tony covers European defense programs. Prior to joining Aviation Week in November 2012, Tony was at Shephard Media Group where he was deputy editor for Rotorhub and Defence Helicopter magazines.