BAE Systems Flap-free MAGMA UAV

BAE Systems MAGMA UAV Maneuvers By Puffing Air Instead Of Using Flaps

How aircraft takes off, flies and land hasn’t change a lot since its invention. They uses a combination of ailerons, elevators and rudders (otherwise known as control surfaces) to do so. Even rotary wing aircraft uses the same principle, except that in helicopters, it is maneuvered by manipulating the main and tail rotors via cyclic and collective inputs. However, this principle of modern flight may not be the only way how aircraft of tomorrow flies.

British defense technology company, BAE Systems, had successfully maneuver an aircraft in flight using supersonically blown air. That, in layman way of understanding, is basically puffing air to disrupt airflow in order to manipulate the aircraft. Two “flap-free” technologies, namely, Wing Circulation Control and Fluidic Thrust Vectoring, were developed to enable roll and pitch traditionally performed by mechanical control surfaces.

With the Wing Circulation Control, air are drawn from the aircraft engine and ejected supersonically through narrow slots around a specially shaped wing trailing edge. The super fast air “disrupts” the fast moving air over the wings and thereby changing the angle of attack to allow it to perform rolls. Think of the supersonically blown air as the catalyst to enable an invisible flap.

BAE Systems Flap-free MAGMA UAV

The Fluidic Thrust Vectoring, on the other hand, is a replace of the elevators. By blowing air jets inside the nozzle to deflect the exhaust jet, it generates a control force thus allowing pitch down and up to be controlled. But clearly those two technologies address pitch and roll, but not yaw. It appears that MAGMA UAV, the test unmanned aerial vehicle developed by The University of Manchester in collaboration with BAE Systems, does have conventional rudders.

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According to BAE Systems, the flow control technologies will allow engineers “to create better performing aircraft that are lighter, more reliable and cheaper to operate.” Moreover, the lack of gaps and edges due to the lack of moving surfaces will make the aircraft less observable on radar and therefore, making the aircraft stealthier. IMHO, the gaps probably won’t matter for an aircraft this small, but I do concur that it will reduce mechanical parts significantly and thus making it lighter and less of a rocket science to operate.

But here’s the thing. The test UAV did not take off and land with this blown-air solution. MAGMA UAV took off and land using conventional flaps, but once in flight, researchers and engineers proceed to test the flap-free flight. I guess the technologies aren’t ready to perform take off and landing yet. The MAGMA UAV flew in the skies above north-west Wales earlier this month and while it may not have yaw control using the air-blown solution, and it may not have took off and land with the technologies, it was a breakthrough in aviation history nonetheless.

Hey, we have to start somewhere, right? Keep going for the test flight video.

Images: BAE Systems.

Source: New Atlas.