Photo in the News: Mini Spy Plane Is Shape-Shifter

Photo: Aerospace engineer Rick Lind holds a bird-like mini spy plane
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August 24, 2005—It looks like a mini-Batplane, but this remote control drone was inspired not by superhero science but by the shape-shifting wings of seagulls. Aerospace engineers at the University of Florida at Gainesville developed the tiny spy plane to dart and dive through cityscapes and quietly snoop for the U.S. military.

Like seagulls, the prototype has morphing wings that can bend at the shoulder and elbow. The feature enables pilots to trade stability for maneuverability at the push of a button.

"If you fly in the urban canyon, through alleys, around parking garages, and between buildings, you need to do sharp turns, spins, and dives," Rick Lind, the project's team leader (pictured above), said in a media statement.

Engineers hope the birdlike spy plane will one day fly autonomously and be agile enough to land on apartment balconies.

—Sean Markey

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