Honeywell Aerospace has developed the Micro Air Vehicle (MAV), an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) based on ducted-fan technology that recently was deployed in Iraq to identify improvised explosive devices (IEDs) from the sky. The deployment marked the first time a ducted-fan UAV was used during combat missions. The MAV, and subsequent generations of the vehicle already in use, could change the face of military reconnaissance, as well as help civilian law enforcement and aviation officials.

Birth of the MAV

The MAV program began as an Advanced Concept Technology Demonstration (ACTD) program in 2003, when the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) awarded Honeywell a $40 million contract to develop the system. Over the past five years, DARPA has continued to invest in UAVs, particularly those with ducted-fan technology. While fixed-wing UAVs have existed for years, the military was searching for a system that would validate “hover and stare” capabilities — the ability to hover above a pre-programmed area and search for IEDs or other targets.

The ducted-fan technology was desirable to the military because it brought key aspects that had not been provided by fixed-wing UAVs. The first aspect was safety. All rotating parts of the MAV are contained within the duct, eliminating the free-rotor, open-spinning aspect that a remote-controlled helicopter might present.

According to Vaughn Fulton, program manager for Honeywell’s Small Unmanned Aerial Systems, that aspect was very desirable for the U.S. Infantry, which was the original proponent for the program. “They wanted a system that would provide persistent hover and stare capabilities; they thought that would be key to their mission and bring them the military utility necessary to have a UAV system down at the platoon level,” he said.

The idea was to develop a system that could be demonstrated in a representative military environment (meaning operating to a service ceiling of 10,500 feet), give it to a military unit, and have the unit develop the tactics, techniques, and procedures associated with the system. The military previously had flown fixed-wing systems and rotorcraft systems and determined that they were not safe enough. Prior ducted- fan systems were very large and not practical for soldiers on the move. The new system had to be small enough and light enough to be carried in a backpack.