NASA Spinoff

Ducted Fan Designs Lead to Potential New Vehicles

The Dragonfly UMR-1 (unmanned/manned/or remotely operable), the only horizontally configured craft the company has designed, is still in development at its onsite hangar. The company anticipates that civilian uses for the craft will include everything from crop dusting to commuting, and military uses will abound, whether as an unmanned reconnaissance vehicle or as its 450-pound payload capacity is leveraged to transport injured soldiers. It is available for purchase, but only as what the Federal Aviation Administration calls an experimental aircraft.

The Springtail EFV (exoskeleton flying vehicle), currently in development, but with several working prototypes finished, uses a series of ducted propellers fueled by a 118-horsepower rotary engine. It fits pilots from 5 feet 4 inches to 6 feet 6 inches in height and weighing from 115 to 275 pounds. It has a top speed of 113 miles per hour and can soar up to 11,400 feet, though the designers intend for the vehicles to operate around 400 feet off the ground and to cruise at a comfortable 90 miles per hour.

The military is quite interested in this vehicle, and Trek Aerospace has received significant funding from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the research and development arm of the U.S. Department of Defense. The vehicle has the potential for use by soldiers, as well as for search and rescue missions, reconnaissance, and surveillance. In addition, it has uses in the homeland security realm for firefighting, police work, and other emergency response situations.

Of course, there is also civilian interest. Who hasn’t been stuck in traffic wishing that there was a way to rise above the throngs of other commuters? A personal aircraft would be the perfect solution. While the Springtail EFV is available for purchase as an experimental aircraft, Trek Aerospace is continuing to test it. The company, however, has had to develop an efficient method to continue the testing as well as procure additional funding.

Its solution was to make a miniaturized test version. Dubbed the OVIWUN, the small-scale version is for sale through the company’s Web site and comes complete with a radio transmitter and receiver, battery charger, open source software, and a basic instruction manual. It weighs fewer than 6 pounds and can lift a little over that. This release has created a buzz among aerospace engineers and university computer science departments, the primary audiences.

The OVIWUN boasts two 450-watt electric motors that can deliver a maximum speed of 44 miles per hour and can climb 2,280 feet per minute. The radio-controlled craft’s ducts allow for safer operation of the vehicle, as the rotors are protected and items that may be in their path are protected from them. The ducted covers allow the craft to bump against objects without damage, which brings to light the most significant advantages of this diminutive aircraft: It is safer than a manned vehicle, and its size makes it relatively difficult for it to damage itself during test flights the way a larger mass, faster craft could.

While this craft is not large enough to carry human passengers, it is definitely a sign of things to come. Someday soon, the dream of accessible individual civilian aircraft will likely be a reality.

Springtail™ and OVIWUN™ are trademarks, and Dragonfly® is a registered trademark of Trek Aerospace Inc.