Efforts toward flapless flight have taken off with BAE Systems and Manchester University successfully completing initial flight trials of MAGMA, a jet powered UAV aiming to manoeuvre with an integrated blown-air system.
Seen as informing the design of future stealth aircraft, the new concept for aircraft control seeks to eliminate complex, mechanical moving parts that move flaps to control aircraft during flight.
According to BAE Systems, this could give greater control as well as reduce weight and maintenance costs, allowing for lighter, faster and more efficient military and civil aircraft in the future.
Wing circulation control and fluidic thrust vectoring are the key technologies to be trialled first using the jet-powered UAV. 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.
Previous attempts at flight without elevators or ailerons have seen the defence giant and UK universities develop Flaviir and DEMON, the latter being a 90kg vehicle with a wingspan of 2.5m that undertook the first ‘flapless’ flight sanctioned by the CAA in September 2010.
According to Brian Oldfield, lead technologist, Advanced Structures, BAE Systems Military Air & Information, MAGMA is a 4m wingspan vehicle weighing 40kg in its conventional control state and is a low speed vehicle for demonstrating novel technology. It will weigh 45kg when modified to have novel flow control devices integrated into it. He added via email that MAGMA uses a modified Hawk 240N gas turbine engine to supply bleed air to the control devices.
The first phase of flight trials took place at Snowdonia Aerospace Centre in September, 2017. According to Oldfield, MAGMA has flown twice with conventional controls only with a cruise speed of 30m/s.
He added that the next steps for MAGMA are to fly and understand the effectiveness of the trailing edge and fluidic thrust vectoring devices, and understand whether control surfaces, such as the fin, could be reduced in size or removed.
“The vehicle is then available to demonstrate further technologies as required, giving us a small test vehicle to trial new ideas,” he said.