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Blown air trials herald flap-free flight

This week’s video comes from Wales where engineers have conducted flight trials of an unmanned aerial vehicle that uses supersonically blown air instead of flaps to manoeuvre.

In a first for the aviation industry, Manchester University researchers and engineers at BAE Systems successfully trialled two ‘flap-free’ technologies on the MAGMA unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) from Llanbedr Airfield.

Wing circulation control and fluidic thrust vectoring were the key technologies demonstrated during test flights. The former takes air from the aircraft engine and blows it supersonically through the trailing edge of the wing to provide control for the aircraft, whilst the latter uses blown air to deflect the exhaust, allowing for the direction of the aircraft to be changed.

Real innovation in engineering is more about finding practical solutions to many hundreds of small technical challenges than having single moments of inspiration - Bill Crowther

Aircraft that manoeuvre with a blown air solution could be 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 make aircraft more observable on radar.

Bill Crowther, senior academic and leader of the MAGMA project at Manchester University said: “The partnership with BAE Systems has allowed us the freedom as a university to focus on research adventure, with BAE Systems providing the pathway to industrial application.

“We made our first fluidic thrust vectoring nozzle from glued together bits of plastic and tested it on a hair drier fan nearly 20 years ago. Today BAE Systems is 3D printing our components out of titanium and we are flight testing them on the back of a jet engine in an aircraft designed and built by the project team. It doesn’t get much better than that.”