UK-based global major aerospace and defence group BAE Systems has been awarded a contract by the US Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (Darpa) to further develop and demonstrate aircraft active flow control technologies. The contract covers the design of a full-scale demonstrator concept and forms part of Darpa’s Control of Revolutionary Aircraft with Novel Effectors (Crane) project.
Active flow control uses technologies such as wing circulation control and fluidic thrust vectoring. Wing circulation control uses air siphoned off from an aircraft’s jet engine and blows it, at supersonic speed, through slots in a specially-designed wing trailing edge (and so this process is known as ‘blown air’). This supersonic-speed air can be used to disrupt the normal air flow over the wing, creating the same effect as a mechanical flap would. Fluidic thrust vectoring blows air jets into the exhaust of the aircraft’s jet engine, thereby deflecting it and so reproducing the effect of a mechanical rudder. Such technologies would simplify aircraft design and maintenance and, on military aircraft, increase their stealthiness.
Back in 2019, BAE Systems successfully flew a subscale uncrewed aerial vehicle which was the first ever aircraft to be successfully manoeuvred in flight using active flow control technologies, including supersonically blown air. This was the Magma project, a joint endeavour between the group, the University of Manchester, in England, and the UK government.
“BAE Systems has been at the forefront of digital design for more than 20 years,” highlighted group senior VP – US Programmes Tom Fillingham. “This award enables us to progress active flow control and our digital engineering at full scale, in collaboration with Darpa and the University of Manchester in the UK. Since our groundbreaking Magma trials, our engineers across the UK, US, and Australia have continued to innovate to identify improvements in the aircraft digital design process to deliver military value and operational advantages to the warfighter.”
The BAE Systems’ contribution to Project Crane will indeed build on its experiences with,
and knowledge derived from, the Magma project. Under the Darpa contract, the company
will carry out design maturation, de-risking and integration work. This will include wind
tunnel testing next year, at the group’s facilities in the northwest of England.