“Flap-Free” Aircraft Soars on Supersonic Air
Matthew Greenwood posted on May 16, 2019 |

A plane with flapless wings has completed its first successful test flight—a first in avionics history.

Called the MAGMA and developed by BAE and the University of Manchester with support from the British government, the cutting edge drone has been testing new technologies that could one day make all planes safer and more reliable.

Today’s aircraft maneuver in the air by manipulating a system of moving parts such as flaps, ailerons, elevators and rudders. The system is inherently inefficient and relies on complex, expensive and maintenance-heavy mechanical parts—and the more moving parts a plane has, the more likely one of them will break, get worn down or malfunction.

The MAGMA’s designers believe they may have found a solution: using supersonic air to steer the plane instead of mechanical parts. By reducing the number of parts, a plane could stay in the air longer without dangerous malfunctions and costly repairs.

One of the two technologies tested by the MAGMA is Wing Circulation Control, which directs some of the supersonic air blown from the engine through narrow adjustable vents on the tail end of a specially shaped wing. The plane is maneuvered by opening or closing the vents as needed. This technology effectively replaces the wing’s aileron.

The other technology is Fluidic Thrust Vectoring, which uses vents inside the engine’s rear nozzle to “aim” the exhaust and change the pitch of the plane. A similar setup is found on the F-22 Raptor, though the MAGMA uses less moving pieces to achieve the same result.

The components for both tests were 3D printed out of titanium by BAE.

The MAGMA undergoes flight trials.

The aim of these technologies is to improve the performance and controls of the aircraft by replacing moving surfaces such as flaps and ailerons with a simpler blown-air alternative—which could result in aircraft that are cheaper, lighter and more reliable. As an added benefit, these technologies could also reduce the number of gaps and edges that get picked up by radar—making the aircraft harder to detect.

The MAGMA is part of a long-term partnership between British aerospace, academia and government to develop flap-free flight technologies. With the success of the trials, those technologies have taken a promising step forward—and have the potential to spur on more breakthroughs in flight design.

“I hope the success of these trials inspires the next generation of much-needed engineers and scientists,” said Julia Sutcliffe, Chief Technologist at BAE.

Want to read more about cutting-edge aircraft design? Check out NASA and MIT Unveil Radical New Wing Design.

Recommended For You