First flight for 'flapless' UAV

An unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) designed to fly without conventional control surfaces has made its maiden flight over Cumbria.

The DEMON UAV made the flight from an airfield at Walney Island on Friday 17 September and was the first of its kind to be authorised by the UK Civil Aviation Authority.

Developed by Cranfield University, BAE Systems and nine other UK universities, DEMON does without conventional mechanical elevators and ailerons that normally control the movement of an aircraft in favour of aerodynamic control using blown jets of air.

According to Cranfield, this ‘flapless’ approach offers several advantages over ‘moving flap’ technology as it requires fewer moving parts, less maintenance and provides the aircraft with a more stealthy profile.

In Cumbria, DEMON successfully demonstrated flapless flight when, for a planned portion of a test flight, the conventional flap control system was turned off and the aircraft flew and manoeuvred using the new technology.

BAE Systems promoted the development of the £6.2m FLAVIIR (Flapless Air Vehicle Integrated Industrial Research) programme that led to the DEMON demonstrator after presenting a ‘Grand Challenge’ to UK universities five years ago.

Prof John Fielding, chief engineer and lead for the DEMON demonstrator team from Cranfield University, said: ‘To make an aircraft fly and manoeuvre safely without the use of conventional control surfaces is an achievement in itself; to do that while at the same time bringing together new construction techniques and new control mechanisms could be said to be over-ambitious – but we have done it.

‘The DEMON UAV has been developed within a research programme but it is a representative, complex, high technology aircraft. Gaining approval from the CAA and flying it successfully has required great skill, dedication and patience by the team and they should be very proud of their achievement.’

Demon is not expected to become a production aircraft but a number of the technologies it contains will be incorporated further into other aviation platforms.

Key Facts:

Weight: 200lbs (90kg).

Dimensions: approximately 8ft (2.5m) wingspan.

Flight speed: 70-150kts.

It was developed by BAE Systems and Cranfield University in the UK. It incorporates fluidic flight controls developed at Cranfield and Manchester universities and flight control algorithms developed at Leicester University and Imperial College.

The DEMON is designed to fly with no conventional elevators or ailerons, getting its pitch and roll control from technologies that rely on blown air and so requires much fewer moving parts. This makes it easier to maintain and repair.

DEMON can fly parts of its mission by itself but, as it is currently an experimental vehicle, is not fully autonomous.

The shape of the DEMON aircraft is referred to as a ’blended wing-body’ configuration.

Flapless technology that manipulates airflow could represent a new way to control aircraft. Click here to read more.