EXCLUSIVE - FanWing UAV spins up for speed test

Added on 17 September 2010 by Tim Robinson

Looking like a cross between a flying lawnmower and something out of a scifi film like Dune, the revolutionary FanWing rotary aircraft concept may be about to enter a new phase if wind-tunnel testing proves a modified design gives increased speed.

The FanWing with new outboard tails configuration

The FanWing- the brainchild of Pat Peebles - is one of those genius inventor struggles-against-the-odds stories of aviation - that one day might make a cracking film in the mould of The Dam Busters, the First of the Few, or Back to the Future
Principally - Peebles went ahead and ignored 100 plus years of aviation which said either design a vehicle with fixed wings or horizontally rotating wings (rotors). Instead he designed a machine with enclosed spinning lateral rotors. The end result looks rather like a crazed aerial combine harvester.

The FanWing could have applications for a cargo resupply UAV (Fanwing/Adrian Mann)

The design proved to have some interesting benefits - it is impossible to stall - so it could be an ideal recreational aircraft. Extremely stable and forgiving, its configuration also allows for impressive STOL capabilities and very slow flight - making it a cheaper alternative to helicopters for surveillance missions. Finally the spinning rotors also produce great lift - giving it potential as a cargo lifter or transport.

However, while there has been vague interest until now it has remained in the ‘hmm - interesting’ category for some in the aerospace industry. One reason is speed. Early wind-tunnel tests predicted that the vehicle would have a slow speed. This, say FanWing limited its usefulness and practical applications.

Despite flying displays at UAV exhibitions like Parc Aberporth, and this year at the first Farnborough airshow UAV display with a 12kg UAV demonstrator - the concept seemed to be an intriguing idea destined for the great ‘aviation dead-ends’ category.

The FanWing was flown in Farnborough 2010's first UAV display

However - one expert, George Seyfang, a former Principal Future Concepts Engineer at BAE Systems, disagreed - and he has recently joined inventor Pat Peebles to work on a new configuration intended to raise the top speed on the FanWing. It will be wind-tunnel tested next month at Preston UK.

The new configuration seen from the rear

The new modifications will be incorporated in two stages. The first, a twin tail or OHS (outboard horizontal stabiliser) (as seen in these exclusive pics) will give increased endurance and lift. This new configuration is already ready for flight tests on the scaled FanWing demonstrator in Italy. The second phase of modifications, to be verified in the wind-tunnel, will tweak the wing configuration - leading to a higher speed. The combined result is tentatively expected to be a 10-15% increase in efficiency and raise the speed to comparative helicopter levels (approx 300km/h).

A computer-rendered FanWing aerial firefighter (Fanwing/Adrian Mann)

If then, as estimated, this new configuration performs as advertised - then this could bring fresh impetus to the project. With an increased top speed - FanWing believe that this will boost the FanWing’s viability to potential investors and to customers. Although cautious, Seyfang believes that with this new configuration - a FanWing could be a highly efficient 22 tonnes cargo lifter (The C-130J lifts 19 tonnes).

However, one sign that this is not just a fantasy project is that while Peebles, now working with Seyfang on the second generation of FanWing, other researchers around the world now seem to be catching on. A paper published in China in April 2009 heavily referenced Peebles’ FanWing concept and other technical papers from Singapore and California have also explored similar technology.

The race, then, to turn the FanWing concept from demonstrator to viable aircraft is most definitely now on - and this latest speed increase will be key to both attracting investment and staying ahead of competitors.

from the Royal Aeronautical Society

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2 Responses to “EXCLUSIVE - FanWing UAV spins up for speed test”

  1. Had the pleasure of meeting Pat at Farnborough and I am now itching to have a crack at integrating an autopilot into the FanWing, I think is would be an interesting exercise.

    Great aircraft very nice people.

  2. Jim B says:

    May your fanwing be a complete success. I’m hoping to see your UAV flying on our borders soon.
    Jim retired old farmer
    retired to Arizona USA

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