BAE Systems has performed flight trials of the Magma unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), demonstrating two flow control technologies that could revolutionise future aircraft design.

The trials saw an aircraft being manoeuvred in flight using supersonically blown-air to control its movement for the first time in aviation history.

The blown-air technology is designed to eliminate the need for complex movable flight control surfaces. The solution involves replacing moving surfaces with a simpler ‘blown air’ solution.

Known as Wing Circulation Control and Fluidic Thrust Vectoring, the two ‘flap-free’ technologies are intended to improve the control and performance of aircraft, were demonstrated by the UAV at the Llanbedr Airfield, north-west Wales.

“I hope the success of these trials inspires the next generation of much-needed engineers and scientists.”

Wing Circulation Control takes air from the aircraft engine and blows it supersonically through narrow slots around a wing tailing edge to ensure control for the aircraft.

Fluidic Thrust Vectoring controls aircraft by blowing air jets inside the nozzle to deflect the exhaust jet and generate a control force.

BAE Systems has designed and developed the Magma UAV in partnership with researchers at the University of Manchester.

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With the successful completion of the trials, engineers can focus on the creation of improved aircraft that are lighter, more reliable and cheaper to operate.

By reducing the number of gaps and edges, the innovative technologies are also expected to make aircraft stealthier. These gaps and edges currently make aircraft more observable on radar.

BAE Systems Air chief technologist Julia Sutcliffe said: “Magma is a great example of how collaborating with bright minds at British universities can deliver ground-breaking research and innovation.

“Our partnership with The University of Manchester has identified cutting-edge technology, in this case, flap-free flight, and turned what began as a feasibility study into a proven capability in just a number of months.

“It demonstrates how STEM can be applied in the real world and I hope the success of these trials inspires the next generation of much-needed engineers and scientists.”

The data from the trials will be used to inform future research programmes.

BAE Systems is also exploring other technologies focused on aircraft performance improvement.