Flat antenna paves way for more aerodynamic aircraft

Military aircraft could become more aerodynamic thanks to the creation of a new flat antenna that could be built into a vehicle’s body.

British researchers have developed a way to control radio signals without the need for a parabolic reflector or spherical “lens”, which they say could lead to more streamlined and weight-saving designs for aircraft, other vehicles or even body-mounted antennas for soldiers.

The flat antenna lens, created by BAE Systems and Queen Mary, University of London, can also operate over a wider range of frequencies than conventional equipment without a large increase in power consumption.

‘The advantage the technology has is not just different shapes but also things like size and miniaturisation,’ research leader Dr Sajad Haq from BAE’s Advanced Technology Centre told The Engineer.

‘In the past you may have had several antennas operating at different frequencies. [With the new technology] you may be able to replace multiple antennas with a single one.’

The new lens is made from a composite metamaterial (an artificial substance designed to have properties not found in nature) comprised of different zones that each have their own electrical properties.

The way these zones are arranged has a similar effect to the curved geometry of a conventional antenna lens, altering the direction and gain of a transmitted radio signal to produce a tailored radiation pattern.

Researchers at Queen Mary produced a three-dimensional computer model of how the different zones, each with slightly different ceramic and polymer resin compositions and structures, should be arranged to produce the required signal.

The BAE team then manufactured the lens according to this design using conventional composite fabrication techniques such as casting, spraying and dip-coating.

‘One of the important things was to have processes that are simple, quick and cost-effective, and that was uppermost in our mind when designing the materials,’ said Haq.

The team has produced several prototype lenses and is now looking at how they could be integrated into working applications and how they are affected by environmental factors.