Washington: An aerospace engineer has developed a first-of-its-kind supersonic unmanned aircraft vehicle (UAV), which is currently in a prototype state and is expected to fly farther and faster than anything remotely similar to date.
Ryan Starkey and his team of students from the University of Colorado Boulder have developed the aircraft.
The fuel efficiency of the engine that powers the 50-kilogram UAV is already double that of similar-scale engines, and Starkey says he hopes to double that efficiency again through further engineering.
According to Starkey, his UAV could be used for everything from penetrating and analysing storms to military reconnaissance missions, both expeditions that can require the long-distance, high-speed travel his UAV will deliver, without placing human pilots in danger.
The UAV also could be used for testing low-sonic-boom supersonic transport aircraft technology, which his team is working toward designing.
The UAV is intended to shape the next generation of flight experimentation after post-World War II rocket-powered research aircraft, like the legendary North American X-15, have long been retired.
“I believe that what we’re going to do is reinvigorate the testing world, and that’s what we’re pushing to do,” Starkey said.
“The group of students who are working on this are very excited because we’re not just creeping into something with incremental change, we’re creeping in with monumental change and trying to shake up the ground,” he said.
Its thrust capacity makes the aircraft capable of reaching Mach 1.4, which is slightly faster than the speed of sound. Starkey says that regardless of the speed reached by the UAV, the aircraft will break the world record for speed in its weight class.
Its compact airframe is about 5 feet wide and 6 feet long. The aircraft costs between 50,000-100,000 dollars, a relatively small price tag in a field that can advance only through testing, which sometimes means equipment loss.
Starkey’s technology, three years in the making at CU-Boulder, is transitioning into a business venture through his weeks-old Starkey Aerospace Corp., called Starcor for short.