Jet-Powered Drone Could Change Aerospace Design


Faster and safer are some of the fundamental principles guiding recent aerial vehicle concepts. The faster not only comes from bigger, more powerful engines but also from lighter-weight materials and more aerodynamic designs. The safer comes primarily from removing human beings from the cockpit.

A recent jet-powered unmanned aerial vehicle from BAE Systems is looking to check both of these boxes and, with help from the University of Manchester, also roll out a new flight control technology that could make the drone easier to maneuver at high speeds.

The MAGMA UAV utilizes Wing Circulation Control technology, which borrows air from the engine and blows it through narrow slots on the trailing edge of the wing at supersonic speeds. This technique allows the aircraft to change direction more quickly and could potentially eliminate the need for mechanical parts like flaps.

Additionally, Fluidic Thrust Vectoring uses this blown air to deflect exhaust out of a vent with a curved lower surface. Whereas the exhaust currently keeps the aircraft in a sort of stuck position while flying, deflecting this airflow downward allows for stealthier movements and quicker changes of direction.

So instead of mechanical part adjustments, the UAV’s speed is controlled by determining how much air is diverted to these areas. And by eliminating parts, these technologies make the aircraft lighter, and therefore faster, and less expensive to produce and maintain.

With help from the University of Arizona and the NATO Science and Technology Organization, trial flights are currently underway.

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