The 2011 Aerospace winner – FLAVIIR

The Demon UAV has become the world’s first aircraft to gain ’mastery of the air’ without using flaps.


BAE Systems, Cranfield University, Imperial College London, University of Leicester, University of Liverpool, University of Manchester, University of Southampton, Warwick University, University of Wales in Swansea, Nottingham University, York University

People refer to flying as ’mastery of the air’. It might seem like a strange phrase – surely they mean mastery in the air? – but it’s literally true. Because what flying is really about is controlling the air, manipulating the pressure above and below to create lift, and changing the way that air flows around the body to manoeuvre.

Birds do it by flapping and changing the shape of their wings; insects do it by a complex interplay between different sets of wings that we don’t understand.

Aircraft, generally, do it with flaps, ailerons and rudders – control surfaces – attached to their wings, or in the case of helicopters, by changing the angle of the rotor blades. The mechanics are complicated, the moving parts numerous and the potential outcome of any of these systems failing catastrophic.

Doing away with control surfaces would reduce the complexity of aircraft considerably and also reduce the cost of maintaining all those complex mechanics. But without them, how would the aircraft fly? How would it gain its mastery of the air?


The other shortlisted candidates in this category were:

COPMA: Consolidated Off-Planet Manufacturing and Assembly System for Large Space Structures

Magna Parva, Excel Composites

It might seem like something from science fiction, but plans for how to manufacture structures in space are in fact well advanced. COPMA uses a system called pultrusion, which produces composites with a constant cross-section. It can make consistent high-strength lengths of material automatically and can even embed sensors directly into the structure as it is made. This project saw Magna Parva’s engineers develop a breadboard model of a deployment system that could build components for antennas, solar sails, or space-based solar arrays that could beam solar power back to Earth. As they would be made in the absence of gravity and would never have to withstand the stresses of a launch, they could be thinner and use less material than systems made on the
planet’s surface.

SeCSy: Sensor Coating System

Southside Thermal Sciences, Cranfield University, RWE nPower, Land Instruments

The efficiency of a gas turbine, whether in a jet engine or a power-generation system, is directly linked to the maximum temperature inside the hot-gas section of the turbine, but the available temperature-measurement systems are so unreliable at these temperatures that operators have to use safety margins as large as 150°C to ensure that vital components aren’t damaged. The SeCSy technique works by turning the material from which the turbine blades and vanes themselves are made into a temperature-measuring system. SeCSy works by embedding materials that fluoresce under ultraviolet light directly into functional ceramics. The character of the fluorescence changes as the material heats up and specially tailored instrumentation can use these changes to determine temperature, erosion, corrosion and ageing effects.