What's new in UAVs: better engines, morphed wings

At the AUVSI unmanned systems show earlier this week, it was interesting to note all the interest in engine technology for UAVs. The image most people have of the typical UAV powerplant is something pulled out of an RC plane and tweaked for military use. Not anymore. Perhaps the most interesting development at the show was a super compact but powerful gas turbine from Hamilton Sundstrand that company officials wouldn't discuss with us, even though an example was on display at the booth. It was small enough to hold in your hands.

Another theme: There is a lot of work among both piston engine and gas turbine suppliers toward making these things operate from heavy fuel -- that's ordinary kerosene-like jet fuel to for the uninitiated. The key seems to be in atomizing the fuel adequately so it will burn more efficiently. That lets the military use one kind of fuel for all its vehicles and simplifies logistics immensely.

Finally, another interesting development came from Frontline Aerospace, Inc. with its V-Star UAV. The V-Star employs morphing wing technology in the form of extensions at the end of its wings that flip up to handle slow flight conditions. So far the craft is only a concept, and there is some pooh-poohing about it from the aviation press because the company is a start-up:

http://www.aviationweek.com/aw/blogs/defense/index.jsp?plckController=Blog&plckScript=blogScript&plckElementId=blogDest&plckBlogPage=BlogViewPost&plckPostId=Blog%3a27ec4a53-dcc8-42d0-bd3a-01329aef79a7Post%3a54bc4110-8356-43c5-9876-ff8dd5578ede

But there is a 50% scale demonstrator under construction that should be ready next year.

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Lee Teschler

Leland serves as Editor-in-Chief of Machine Design. He has 34 years of Service and holds a B.S. Engineering from the University of Michigan, a B.S. Electrical Engineering from the University of...
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