Cutting-Edge Aircraft Designs Hold Out Promise of Aluminum Use For Decades to Come – Part 2

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Source: The Economist

The second team from London’s Imperial College are, if anything, taking an even more radical line, as you can see their project has no tail and relies more on reducing drag to such a low level that smaller and hence more efficient engines can be used. Roughly half the fuel used to maintain level flight is burned to overcome the drag imposed by turbulent air over the wings, tail and fuselage. The design relies on advanced aircraft control systems developed for fighter jets to blend the effects of ailerons, flaps and other control surfaces on the wings to replicate the work done by the rudder and elevators of the conventional tail. This shares some similarities with a flying test bed called Demon, run by a consortium in the UK. Officially known as FLAVIIR, the Flapless Air Vehicle Integrated Industrial Research project is a consortium of Cranfield University and nine other British universities, working in conjunction with BAE Systems, a defense contractor.

Source: The Economist and BAE Systems

Demon is a remote-controlled, delta-winged drone, 2.7 meters (106 inches) from wingtip to wingtip, is powered by a small jet engine, and is intended to test designs for stealth mode delta wing designs to be made without flaps or ailerons to avoid any radar image for the military. The flying test bed has ailerons but only as back up; adjusting the degree of turbulence over each wing creates control. Air vents release compressed air through the upper or lower surface of the wing in response to instructions to turn or roll. As with Imperial College’s project, a failure of such advanced computer-reliant techniques for military use would be costly but not lethal for a military pilot who can eject. For that reason alone these cutting edge techniques are less likely for early adoption than MIT’s ideas for commercial passenger aircraft applications. Nevertheless, they all represent fascinating new opportunities for the aviation industry, so long reliant on wringing incremental improvements out of well-established designs. If they encourage designers to stay with Aluminum longer than may otherwise be the case so much the better.

–Stuart Burns

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