Flying fish were the inspiration for an unmanned seaplane developed at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.
The autonomous craft is believed to be the first seaplane that can initiate and perform its own takeoffs and landings on water.
The project is funded by the Department of Defense as part of the federal government’s “persistent ocean surveillance” program.
Dubbed the “Flying Fish,” the aircraft’s flight pattern is, essentially, a recording of a graduate student’s piloting of the plane. Once it is in the water, it drifts until its onboard GPS tells it that it has floated too far, triggering the takeoff sequence, which gets the plane airborne in 10 meters. GPS coordinates also trigger the landing, which is basically a shallow descent, according to researchers.
“When it impacts the water, it goes, ‘Oh, there’s the water,’” said Ella Akins, associate professor of engineering and computer science. “The boat has very well-designed pontoons. Because it doesn’t have a flat bottom, it cuts into the water like a diver, as opposed to belly-flopping.”