Air Platforms

Navy League 2017: NRL eyes CICADA swarm tests

05 April 2017

The US Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) is planning swarming tests of its Close-In Covert Autonomous Disposable Aircraft (CICADA) MK5 from a US Navy P-3 Orion aircraft.

CICADA is a palm-sized unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) designed to be deployed from a sonobuoy canister and in essence is a flying circuit board with autopilot controls built into the wings.

The US Naval Research Laboratory's CICADA is a palm-sized air vehicle. (IHS Markit/Geoff Fein)The US Naval Research Laboratory's CICADA is a palm-sized air vehicle. (IHS Markit/Geoff Fein)

The air vehicle is GPS guided and self-stabilises using spin recovery manoeuvres that have been tested at a wind tunnel at the NASA Langley Research Center, an NRL spokesperson told Jane's, at the Navy League Sea, Air, Space symposium at National Harbor, Maryland, on 5 April.

CICADA currently carries Micro-Electro-Mechanical- (MEM)-based pressure, temperature, and humidity sensors, and estimates the vertical wind profile during descent. CICADA uses an onboard GPS to provide position, time and altitude and guide itself to a specific location on the battlefield.

The CICADA has a 65 g flight weight and descends at a rate of around 1,000 ft per minute.

The MK5 fits into a sonobuoy tube fitted with a parachute. After being launched from an aircraft, the canister releases all the CICADAs. A single tube can hold 32 of the small air vehicles, stacked two at a time, nose to tail.

The launch system has now been approved by the US Naval Air systems Command for deployment from a P-3 Orion maritime surveillance aircraft.

With the basic research effort complete, the CICADA programme is hoping to transition the technology to industry or a military sponsor who could tailor it for a specific mission.

To date, NRL has delivered 150 CICADAs to the NASA Langley Research Center.

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