Article image

Scientists test new aircraft that flies with no engine

A new aircraft that is capable of flying for long periods of time without an engine has been launched for a test run. The aerial vehicle, known as The Phoenix, was designed to propel forward by rapidly transitioning between being heavier and lighter than air.

Andrew Rae, a professor of Engineering at the University of the Highlands and Islands, led the development of the aircraft.

“The Phoenix spends half its time as a heavier-than-air aeroplane, the other as a lighter-than-air balloon,” explained Professor Rae. “The repeated transition between these states provides the sole source of propulsion.”

“The vehicle’s fuselage contains helium to allow it to ascend and also contains an air bag which inhales and compresses air to enable the craft to descend. This motion propels the aeroplane forwards and is assisted by the release of the compressed air through a rear vent.”

The Phoenix was tested over a distance of 394 feet in continuous laps at an indoor storage facility in Portsmouth. The vehicle, which is also called an ultra-long endurance autonomous aircraft, is 49 feet in length and weighs about 265 pounds.

“Current equivalent aeroplanes are very complex and very expensive. By contrast, Phoenix is almost expendable and so provides a user with previously unavailable options.”

According to the researchers, the test flight was the result of a three-year project to investigate the effectiveness of variable-buoyancy for powering a large aircraft. The team is now looking to collaborate with major manufacturers to move into the next phase of development.

The project has been supported by Innovate UK, the UK’s Innovation Agency, and the Aerospace Technology Institute.

By Chrissy Sexton, Staff Writer

Image Credit: University of the Highlands and Islands

News coming your way
The biggest news about our planet delivered to you each day