Starkey Aerospace developing Mach 1.4 to 1.7 supersonic UAVs for $50,000 to 100,000 each

Starcor (Starkey Aerospace) is currently developing a high-efficiency, lubrication-free turbojet engine for unmanned aircraft and cruise missiles. The L-FX00 promises reduced engine weight, higher fuel efficiency, and longer time-between-overhaul than turbojet engines on the market with similar thrust output. Variants of the L-FX00 include fluidic thrust vectoring and afterburner capability.

A pilot inlet feeds air to a custom afterburning 200-lb.-thrust turbojet, which is also under development.

A goal is to further develop the engine to double the thrust again. Having a cheap UAV supersonic testbed and an even more powerful engine could lead to a larger UAV that could have the capacity to carry a person for a personal supersonic flyer.

A rendering, created by master’s degree student Greg Rancourt, of the Gojett UAV. (Courtesy Ryan Starkey

Led by Colorado University assistant professor and Starcor CEO Ryan Starkey, the mini-UAV is designed to appeal to a research community that has been “disenfranchised with $100 million programs that stop and start.” Instead, for
$50,000 to $100,000, Starkey says the industry can have an affordable, test asset that “won’t end your program if you lose it.” Gojett was developed “in the spirit of the X-15,” and is aimed at rekindling the can-do spirit of the 1950s and 1960s when fast-paced progress was built on repeatable cycles of design, test, learn and re-test.

The initial vehicle is targeted at Mach 1.4 “because we think we can get there,” says Starkey, who adds that the eventual aim is a UAV capable of Mach 1.6-1.7. Measuring 1.76 meters (5.8 ft.) in length, the vehicle is configured with a 1.27-meter-span cranked delta wing. Flight-control surfaces consist of elevons and a fluidic-injection thrust vectoring system.

Starcor is also partnering with the University of Colorado at Boulder to develop a supersonic unmanned aircraft powered by one of the L-FX00 engines. GOJETT will enter prototype testing this year with the goal of setting the World UAV speed record in the 50 kg class. Small, sleek, and supersonic, GOJETT spells big news for supersonic transport research and cruise missile design.

“I believe that what we’re going to do is reinvigorate the testing world, and that’s what we’re pushing to do,” said Starkey. “The group of students who are working on this are very excited because we’re not just creeping into something with incremental change, we’re creeping in with monumental change and trying to shake up the ground.”

Its thrust capacity makes the aircraft capable of reaching Mach 1.4, which is slightly faster than the speed of sound. Starkey says that regardless of the speed reached by the UAV, the aircraft will break the world record for speed in its weight class.

The UAV, which is currently in a prototype state, is expected to fly farther and faster — using less fuel — than anything remotely similar to date.

The fuel efficiency of the engine that powers the 50-kilogram UAV is already double that of similar-scale engines, and Starkey says he hopes to double that efficiency again through further engineering.

Starkey says his UAV could be used for everything from penetrating and analyzing storms to military reconnaissance missions — both expeditions that can require the long-distance, high-speed travel his UAV will deliver — without placing human pilots in danger. The UAV also could be used for testing low-sonic-boom supersonic transport aircraft technology, which his team is working toward designing

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1 thought on “Starkey Aerospace developing Mach 1.4 to 1.7 supersonic UAVs for $50,000 to 100,000 each”

  1. An self-guided aircraft could expand ownership (probably for the rich) by lowering the licensing and training barrier.

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