When soldiers want to gather intelligence in enemy territory, they often have to travel into that territory themselves, depositing acoustic, magnetic, chemical/biological or signals intelligence sensors by hand. Not only does this place the soldiers in harm's way, but the logistics of such missions can also end up being quite costly. That's why the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory Vehicle Research Section created the CICADA unmanned air vehicle (UAV). The tiny sensor-equipped glider was successfully tested at Arizona's Yuma Proving Grounds on September 1st.

The idea behind the CICADA (Close-In Covert Autonomous Disposable Aircraft) is that it will be released from another aircraft or a balloon at a high altitude over its intended target. Using a 5-Hertz GPS receiver and a two-axis gyroscope, it will then enter a corkscrewing orbit, circling and gliding down to the ground - its small size and lack of engine noise should make it very difficult for enemy forces to detect.

The aircraft's single wing is made from a printed circuit board, which doubles as its autopilot. This approach reportedly minimizes assembly time, wiring requirements and construction expenses, while boosting robustness. Depending on what sort of electronic payload the CICADA is carrying, it can be equipped with an accordingly-printed wing.

In last week's eight test flights, two CICADAs were mounted on the underside of the wings of a larger, motorized Tempest UAV. That aircraft, in turn, was carried up to altitudes as high as 57,000 feet (17,374 meters) by a weather balloon. After being released, it then pulled up and flew to a predetermined drop location. The two CICADAs were then released from its wings, and both proceeded to glide down to the ground, landing within 15 feet (4.6 meters) of their targets.

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