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Professor Designs Plasma-propelled Flying Saucer

Sci­ence Daily

Fly­ing saucers may soon be more fact than mere sci­ence fic­tion. Uni­ver­sity of Florida mechan­i­cal and aero­space engi­neer­ing asso­ciate pro­fes­sor Sub­rata Roy has sub­mit­ted a patent appli­ca­tion for a cir­cu­lar, spin­ning air­craft design rem­i­nis­cent of the space­ships seen in count­less Hol­ly­wood films. Roy, how­ever, calls his design a “wing­less elec­tro­mag­netic air vehi­cle,” or WEAV.

The pro­posed pro­to­type is small – the air­craft will mea­sure less than six inches across – and will be effi­cient enough to be pow­ered by on-board batteries.

Roy said the design can be scaled up and the­o­ret­i­cally should work in a much larger form. Even in minia­ture, though, the design has many uses.

The most obvi­ous func­tions would be sur­veil­lance and nav­i­ga­tion. The air­craft could be designed to carry a cam­era and light and be con­trolled remotely at great dis­tances, he said.

Fit­tingly, Roy said his fly­ing saucer one day could soar through atmos­pheres other than Earth’s own. For exam­ple, the air­craft would be an ideal vehi­cle for the explo­ration of Titan, Saturn’s sixth moon, which has high air den­sity and low grav­ity, Roy said.

The U.S. Air Force and NASA have expressed inter­est in the air­craft, and the uni­ver­sity is seek­ing to license the design, he said.

“This is a very novel con­cept, and if it’s suc­cess­ful, it will be rev­o­lu­tion­ary,” Roy said.

The vehi­cle will be pow­ered by a phe­nom­e­non called mag­ne­to­hy­dro­dy­nam­ics, or the force cre­ated when a cur­rent or a mag­netic field is passed through a con­duct­ing fluid. In the case of Roy’s air­craft, the con­duct­ing fluid will be cre­ated by elec­trodes that cover each of the vehicle’s sur­faces and ion­ize the sur­round­ing air into plasma.

The force cre­ated by pass­ing an elec­tri­cal cur­rent through this plasma pushes around the sur­round­ing air, and that swirling air cre­ates lift and momen­tum and pro­vides sta­bil­ity against wind gusts. In order to max­i­mize the area of con­tact between air and vehi­cle, Roy’s design is par­tially hol­low and con­tin­u­ously curved, like an elec­tro­mag­netic fly­ing bundt pan.

One of the most rev­o­lu­tion­ary aspects of Roy’s use of mag­ne­to­hy­dro­dy­nam­ics is that the vehi­cle will have no mov­ing parts. The lack of tra­di­tional mechan­i­cal air­craft parts, such as pro­pellers or jet engines, should pro­vide tremen­dous reli­a­bil­ity, Roy said. Such a design also will allow the WEAV to hover and take off vertically.

Though the design is promis­ing on paper, tow­er­ing obsta­cles stand between the blue­print and liftoff.

No plasma-propelled air­craft has suc­cess­fully taken flight on Earth. Such designs have found some suc­cess in space, where grav­ity and drag are min­i­mal, but a vehi­cle hop­ing to fly within Earth’s atmos­phere will need at least an order of mag­ni­tude more thrust, Roy said.

Also, the power source needs to be extremely light­weight yet still pro­duce enough power to gen­er­ate the nec­es­sary plasma. Not to men­tion the fact that the very same plasma that will allow the air­craft to fly also will inter­fere with elec­tro­mag­netic waves nec­es­sary for com­mu­ni­ca­tion with the vehicle.

But Roy is con­fi­dent that the unique nature of his design will allow it to clear the tech­no­log­i­cal hur­dles and take to the skies, and he’s not deterred by the risk of failure.

“Of course the risk is huge, but so is the pay­off,” he said. “If suc­cess­ful, we will have an air­craft, a saucer and a heli­copter all in one embodiment.”

The propul­sion sys­tem for Roy’s saucer sprouts from his exten­sive U.S. Air Force-funded plasma actu­a­tor research, the results of which have appeared in more than 15 schol­arly journals.

The pro­duc­tion of the air­craft will be a joint project of UF’s mechan­i­cal and aero­space engi­neer­ing depart­ment and its elec­tri­cal and com­puter engi­neer­ing department.

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