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North West engineers make aviation history

Researchers at the University of Manchester have worked with engineers from BAE Systems to successfully trial ‘flap-free’ wing technology which could revolutionise aircraft design.

The MAGMA experimental aircraft manoeuvres in flight using supersonically blown air, removing the need for complex movable elements on wings to control air flow.  

Trials in North West Wales successfully demonstrated two technologies. Wing circulation controltakes air from the aircraft engine and blows it through narrow slots around a specially shaped wing to control the aircraft, while fluidic thrust vectoringblows air jets inside the nozzle to generate a controlled force.  

By replacing moving wing surfaces with a blown airsolution, the trials have paved the way for engineers to create better-performing aircraft that are lighter, more reliable and cheaper to operate.  

Bill Crowther, senior academic and leader of the MAGMA project at the University of Manchester, said: 

We are excited to have been part of a long-standing effort to change the way in which aircraft can be controlled, going all the way back to the invention of wing warping by the Wright brothers.  

Its been a great project for students to be part of, highlighting that real innovation in engineering is more about finding practical solutions to many hundreds of small technical challenges than having single moments of inspiration. 

The partnership with BAE Systems has allowed us the freedom as a university to focus on research adventure, with BAE Systems providing the pathway to industrial application. We made our first fluidic thrust vectoring nozzle from glued together bits of plastic and tested it on a hair drier fan nearly 20 years ago. Today BAE Systems is 3D printing our components out of titanium and we are flight testing them on the back of a jet engine in an aircraft designed and built by the project team. It doesnt get much better than that. 

Julia Sutcliffe, Chief Technologist at BAE Systems Air, added: 

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. 

The trials form part of a long-term collaboration between BAE Systems, academia and the UK government to explore and develop flap-free flight technologies, and the data will be used to inform future research programmes. 

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