Blown-air flight could revolutionise aircraft design

Blown-air flight could revolutionise aircraft design

For the first time, an aircraft has been manoeuvred in flight using supersonically blown air, removing the need for complex movable flight control surfaces.

Blown-air flight could revolutionise aircraft design

For the first time, an aircraft has been manoeuvred in flight using supersonically blown air, removing the need for complex movable flight control surfaces.

In a series of flight trials that took place in the skies above north-west Wales, the MAGMA unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) demonstrated two innovative flow control technologies which could revolutionise future aircraft design.

MAGMA, designed and developed by researchers at The University of Manchester in collaboration with engineers from BAE Systems, successfully trialled the two ‘flap-free’ technologies at the Llanbedr Airfield.

The technologies have been designed to improve the control and performance of aircraft. By replacing moving surfaces with a simpler ‘blown air’ solution, the trials could pave the way for engineers to create better-performing aircraft that are lighter, more reliable and cheaper to operate.

The technologies could also improve an aircraft’s stealth as they reduce the number of gaps and edges that currently make aircraft more observable on radar. The technology could be applied to the development of a Future Combat Air System, BAE Systems says.

Flap-free flight

Julia Sutcliffe, Chief Technologist, BAE Systems Air, said: “Our partnership with The University of Manchester has identified cutting-edge technology, in this case flap-free flight, and turned what began as a feasibility study into a proven capability in just a number of months. It demonstrates how STEM can be applied in the real-world and I hope the success of these trials inspires the next generation of much-needed engineers and scientists.”

Bill Crowther, senior academic and leader of the MAGMA project at The University of Manchester, added: “We are excited to have been part of a long-standing effort to change the way in which aircraft can be controlled, going all the way back to the invention of wing warping by the Wright brothers. It’s been a great project for students to be part of, highlighting that real innovation in engineering is more about finding practical solutions to many hundreds of small technical challenges than having single moments of inspiration.

 The technologies demonstrated in the trials were:

  • Wing Circulation Control: Taking air from the aircraft engine and blowing it supersonically through narrow slots around a specially shaped wing tailing edge in order to control the aircraft.
  • Fluidic Thrust Vectoring: Controlling the aircraft by blowing air jets inside the nozzle to deflect the exhaust jet and generate a control force.

Other technologies to improve the aircraft performance are being explored in collaboration with NATO Science and Technology Organisation.

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