The insectothopter has never actually been used in the field, but it’s so interesting and ingenious, it’s worth having a closer look. Although naming it is a bit hokey, this is its official designation by the CIA. The agency says it developed the insectothopter in the ’70s as a way to carry a listening device that secretly disguises itself as a dragonfly. The first plan was for a bumblebee, but the agency found that the bee’s flight patterns were too erratic, so it was replaced with a dragonfly. It was driven by a small fluidic oscillator, and gained additional thrust from the expulsion of gas from the motor. It relied on a rear laser for guidance, as well as relaying data to the listening device. The agency has a video of it in action on its website and, while it works, crosswinds can too easily throw it off course, and it’s been shelved.
While the CIA created this small UAV, it never saw service. Interestingly, in the 90s, Russian intelligence tried to make a copy. The Spy Museum website shows some pictures of it. Apparently, the Russians copied the idea, but were less successful in disguising it, as it looked clearly mechanical, and was made of clear acrylic and metal.