An EU-backed propulsion technology could mean improved manoeuvrability for aircraft including UAVs, significant efficiencies in full consumption and shorter take-offs and landings.
The Vector Thrust system developed by the ACHEON project is capable of directing the flow and pressure output the engine to control its direction using a directional nozzle that does not require additional mechanical moving parts. This completely changes the way how we think about aircraft as it effectively does away with the traditional Vector Thrust technology, which is both complex and costly.
The project has had involvement from six universities and two research organisations from across the EU: including a team at Lincoln University’s school of engineering. LU had the responsibility of assessing the technology for potential integration within aircraft. Funding came from the 7th Framework Programme of the European Commission, which supports projects starting from academia that have promising potential industrial applications.
The design of the nozzle is based on the HOMER nozzle concept by University of Modena and Reggio Emilia, Italy, and PEACE - Plasma Enhanced Actuator for Coanda Effect - that enhances the effects of the nozzle, created by University of Beira Interior, Portugal.
The Coanda Effect is nothing new and indeed used by airforce pilots to allow large, heavily laden aircraft - like the C-17 Globemaster III pictured below - to fly at low speeds without the risks of stalling, undue strain on the engines or a punishing amount of turbulence for all those on board.
"C-17 no169 landing" - U.S. Air Force photo by Dennis Rogers
The Lincoln team concluded that the technology had far reaching applications and, if put into use, could see the traditional profiles of military and commercial aircraft change dramatically in the coming years. Potential applications include unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) systems and both a large and small passenger transport aircraft.
As well as looking at the aerospace sector, the team is now evaluating how the nozzle technology could be used in other industrial applications, such as in the agricultural sector, where this could help farmers develop closer control crop dusting systems. It could also be used to develop more accurate large scale printing processes.
The consortium is hoping to continue the project with the development of a fully functional flying prototype, with help from their partners the Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Belgium, Nimbus SRL and Italy’s Reggio Emilia Innovazione.
‘We have proved the concept, but the technology now needs to be refined,’ said Tim Smith, senior research fellow at the University of Lincoln. ‘We are most likely to do some more work with UAVs when it comes to building a demonstrator, as the increased manoeuvrability the system provides is very attractive here.’
This remarkable breakthrough only emphasises the need for engineers. With every innovation the shortfall only grows. Far more needs to be done at the Government and corporate level to ensure the next generation of Engineers are being educated and trained.