Supersonic Mini-Drone Being Built

Forbes – Researchers at the University of Colorado are building the smallest supersonic jet engine ever made — and are attaching it to a 22lb UAV.

This is a follow up to nextbigfuture coverage from March, 2012 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.”

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.

Some of the goals of his research project are to design, test, and eventually launch for production an unmanned aerial vehicle capable of: 1) setting the world speed record, 2) providing an in-situ resource for measurements and/or sensor deployment within or around hurricanes/tornadoes, 3) sub-scale sonic-boom testing, and 4) use as a military drone. Starkey is also the founder of Starkey Aerospace Corporation a.k.a. Starcor (not to be confused with Stark Industries) a company designed to transition advanced propulsion research out of the Busemann Advanced Concepts Lab at the University of Colorado Boulder (CU) to government and industry. Starcor set out to not only push the boundaries of what is possible in propulsion but to rethink the traditional concept of an aerospace company.

The UAV is approximately 7ft long and 5ft wide, weighing 110 pounds when fully fueled, as such it currently has a limited range. While many companies are currently researching supersonic UAVs, only Starkey’s prototype has perfected the necessary propulsion system.

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