Bug-sized spy planes may sound like science fiction, but undergraduate student Ryan George hopes that his research will help make them a reality. With Professor Scott Thomson, George is researching the wing movements of ladybugs to try and create micro-air vehicles.

Hoping Mother Nature can teach modern technology a thing or two about flight, George uses a camera with a shutter speed of 5000 frames per second to analyze the exact movements of a ladybug in flight. This information will inform the design of a flapping-wing micro-air vehicle.

George and other researchers assume that natural selection has already optimized the flying capabilities of beetles for an object of such small size. Beetles are considered ideal for this particular project because they have forewings for protection and hindwings for flight. With the prospect of being ejected out of an airplane, these vehicles could use a protective shell. The flapping nature of beetle wings also allows for better maneuvering and slower speeds than fixed-wing vehicles.

While beetle-sized spy planes may not be here for a while, the near future looks bright for George. He graduates in April and plans to attend graduate school where he will continue to work the bugs out of this research.

Writer: Patrick Perkins