Researchers have developed an UAV that looks like a flying saucer and is being evaluated by the British and American armies for service. GFS Projects’ unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) can soar high in the air, hover, bank and fly over any terrain, making it ideal for military surveillance. A propeller mounted atop the two-foot-wide aircraft pushes air down over the saucer-shaped body, creating a broad cone of thrust extending outward.
It uses an aerodynamic principle known as the Coanda effect to take off vertically from any solid surface.
“The key to it is that it’s very stable,” explains David Steel, a director at GFS Projects in Peterborough, a medium-sized English city about 75 miles north of London. “You have a large base of air extending downward supporting the craft, looking something like a woman’s skirt.”
The current model, the GFS 13, is made of plywood and plastic and powered by electric batteries driving a regular automotive radiator fan.
“Five years ago, when we first started, we had a propeller custom-built,” explains David Steel, a director at GFS Projects. “It took six months to develop, cost 10,000 pounds [close to $20,000] and broke after two weeks.”
After that, the company decided to use nothing but off-the-shelf parts while it worked on the proof-of-concept phase of development.
“It can travel at 30 or 40 miles per hour over an open area,” says Steel, “but that’s not really important. What matters is that it can move in any direction over a large area, and is difficult to knock out of the air.”
Since the underside of the craft is an aerodynamic “dead zone,” a camera, cargo or payload could easily be mounted there without affecting the UAV’s flight performance.
At the moment, a human operator controls the craft, which is about two feet across and weighs 15 pounds, via radio signals.
Steel says future models will be made of carbon composites, be powered by gasoline or diesel engines driving a much more efficient propeller and be guided by GPS-based autonomous flight-control systems.
“You would input coordinates via a laptop or PDA,” says Steel, “and the craft would navigate itself. Best of all, those systems are now off the shelf as well.”
Final production costs for each vehicle, Steel says, “would be in the low thousands of pounds — certainly much less than a Hummer or Range Rover.”
Steel says GFS has received funding from the U.S. Army’s International Technology Center-Atlantic’s European Research Office, based in London. He didn’t feel comfortable detailing the amount of funding involved, or what exactly it might be for other than “demonstration of concept.”
Calls and e-mails to that U.S. military office in London were not immediately returned.
GFS is also competing against five other companies to win British Ministry of Defense funding for “autonomous surveillance systems,” culminating next summer with timed trials assessing threats in a mock enemy village.
The company also says the craft could be used for civil purposes, such as search-and-rescue operations or infrastructure inspection in remote locations.
“The beauty of the UAV lies in its simplicity,” says Steel. “There are very few moving parts, and if it bumps into a wall or mountain, it just bounces off and continues on its way.”
This is not the first attempt to develop a flying saucer like aircraft for military purposes, the VZ-9- AV Avrocar was a Canadian VTOL aircraft developed by Avro Aircraft as part of a secret US military project carried out in the early years of the Cold War. Two prototypes were built as “proof-of-concept” test vehicles for more advanced USAF fighter and US Army tactical combat aircraft. The Avrocar intended to exploit the Coand? effect to provide lift and thrust from a single “turborotor.” Thrust from the rotor was diverted out the rim of the disk-shaped aircraft to provide anticipated VTOL-like performance. In the air, it would have resembled a flying saucer. In flight testing, the Avrocar proved to have unresolved thrust and stability problems that limited it to a degraded, low-performance flight envelope; subsequently, the project was canceled in 1961.
The Avrocar in action, never got more than a few feet off the ground and could only travel over solid surfaces.
More on GFS:
GFS Projects Limited was formed in 2002 to design, develop and market a new form of flying. Our Unmanned Aerial vehicle (UAV) is based on the ideas and research of Geoff Hatton – the inventor. The company secured a SMART grant from the Department of Trade & Industry and equity funding from a group of investors.
This video shows GFS13A in outdoor tests in May 2007 near the city of Peterborough, United Kingdom. Fully controled flight was achieved, to altitudes of around 80 feet, and the landing back to a launch pad of two feet square can be seen.
The GFS UAV
Our UAV is capable of vertical take off, fully controlled flight, hovering and landing on a specified point. By using the Coanda principle to create lift, it has very little downwash and is aerodynamically stable. To date all prototypes have been battery powered, but the design is scalable and the larger versions will have internal combustion engines.
Applications and uses
The craft will be most useful in urban environments, where its ability to hover and fly close to and within buildings will enable close quarter surveillance and intelligence gathering. Having no exposed rotating parts, brushes with walls etc., do not compromise the craft’s flight.
Numerous applications have been identified, including battlefield & urban surveillance, intelligent targeting, disaster area reconnaissance, communications relay and jamming, sensor distribution, land mine detection, air quality sampling, listening and search & rescue. For a complete list of applications click here.
The Development Programme
Flight duration and payload are still limited, and the company is now focused on optimising fan, motors and canopy specifications, with a view to having a commercially solid range of capabilities by 2008. We are also seeking joint venture partners and licensees to work with in each of the main market sectors.
The Development Team
Geoff Hatton leads a team of aeronautics graduates and workshop technicians. Academic input comes from Dr H Babinsky at Cambridge University.