Altitude compensation

Plextek has launched a Medium Altitude Long Endurance (MALE) UAV engine that it claims weighs around 30 per cent less than existing solutions while providing the same amount of power.

Using techniques developed by the high-performance automotive industry, the Cambridge-based team believes that the system will allow UAVs and other aircraft to fly at higher altitudes without compromising performance.

The technology works by using a mechanically driven supercharger to deliver sea-level density air pressure to the engine as aircraft altitude increases. According to Mike Roberts, senior project consultant, this solution improves the weight and efficiency of UAVs, allowing them to explore areas that were previously difficult to reach.

Roberts said: ‘As a UAV climbs, air density declines and the engine produces less power. So if you want to achieve a certain amount of power at high altitude you have to start with a lot more at sea level. Traditionally, manufacturers have done this by using a bigger engine. However, our altitude compensation system uses a supercharger to maintain the same air pressure at 20,000ft and therefore the same performance as at sea level.’

Following two years of research and development, the team believes it now has a working prototype and is hopeful of commercialising the product in the next few years.

Roberts added: ‘We’ve been working on this with one of the big defence prime contractors in the UK to see if it would feed into its programmes. We’re still in early days and it’s still a prototype, but we think it could be moved across to bigger and smaller engines for a wider variety of aircraft to use it in.’

Ellie Zolfagharifard