Dr. Roelof Vos and Malcom Brown discuss the successful first launch of the scaled-model Flying-V.
What are today’s aerospace engineers doing to shape the future of long-distance air travel? One possible answer is the Flying-V. What began as an idea from TU Berlin student Justus Benad is now one step closer to reality with the successful launch of the scale model Flying-V that was outfitted with efficient and powerful Schuebeler EDFs.
Dr. Roelof Vos, Assistant Professor at the Aerospace Engineering Faculty of the Delft University of Technology, and Malcom Brown, Chief Engineer of the Flying V project, spoke about this exciting new aircraft design and its potential to change the aircraft industry in the latest podcast. You can listen to the show in the player below or read the following summary.
Innovation is at the heart of any technology revolution, especially when looking at the future of aviation. At Delft University, the Flying V, a newly designed aircraft, is starting to shape and possibly change air travel in the future. What began as an idea is now another step closer to reality with the successful launch of the scale model Flying-V.
Dr. Roelof Vos is an assistant professor at the aerospace engineering facility of Delft University of Technology where he is the head of the Flying-V project and responsible for the overall design. He teaches courses on aircraft design, aerodynamic design of transport aircraft, and aerodynamic design of combat aircraft. He is the author of the textbook, “Introduction to Transonic Aerodynamics.” During the past 10 years, Dr. Vos spent his time looking at how various technologies can improve airplanes and make them more sustainable.
“The Flying-V is one of those technologies,” Dr. Vos said. “It’s a pivotal technology and is a completely different airplane configuration; so much more than technology you apply to a wing or an engine. My passion for airplanes has resulted in the design of this radically new airplane configuration.”
Chief Engineer of the design of the model Flying V is Malcom Brown, who found his passion for aircraft in his youth when his father worked for South African Airways. From beginning with RC aircraft in his teenage years to participating in design competitions and enrolling in aerospace engineering at Deflt University, Brown worked his way up to become the chief engineer on the Flying V Project.
“I found that I have a passion for actual aircraft design,” Brown said. “I really love what I’m doing, it’s an amazing job and I’m so proud to be part of hopefully the next step.”
The Flying V Project
The Flying-V was actually designed by a student, Justas Benad, who worked at Airbus as an intern. His original conception connected two fuselage barrels into a V-shape together and putting an aerodynamic shell around it. After studying and validating the initial design of Benad, Dr. Vos believed this new V-shaped airplane concept could become a reality.
“We started with a very independent study,” Dr. Vos explains. “We soon found, after about a year of analysis, that they were indeed valid and that the claims that were made by Airbus and Justas were quite credible. That’s when I thought for the first time, “Hey, we might be onto something here with this new V-shaped airplane configuration.”
Because the Flying-V is a whole new airplane configuration, it was important for Dr. Vos and his team to build a working, scaled-model prototype.
“It was very important to convince ourselves that what we were looking at full-scale would be flyable in practice,” said Dr. Vos. “So, we wanted to do this test to prove to ourselves that yes, this airplane can be flown and handled properly by a pilot.
For Brown’s part, he started giving the initial team at Delft some ideas but soon realized he wanted in on the project.
“I got involved along the process of designing and building the wind tunnel model,” Brown said. “Then naturally, it progressed from there. It’s quite a big risk to build a full-scale prototype. So, to test out your ideas, you build a smaller one to see if it works out and that’s what we’re doing with the Flying-V.”
V is for Efficiency
The big reason for creating this new plane configuration is fuel conservation.
“There are three things that make the Flying V better than a normal airplane when it comes to efficiency,” Dr. Vos said. “It is 10% smaller than a normal airplane by means of the outside area. That reduces the friction drag of the airplane. It also has very large winglets that effectively increase the airplane’s span, reducing the drag once again. And, thirdly, because we are distributing the weight laterally, we are also able to reduce the structural weight of the airplane.”
The combination of these three aspects reduces overall energy consumption by 20%.
According to Brown, “The main benefit is because you don’t have a fuselage you’re just dragging through the air. Instead, everything’s built into a wing, which is contributing to your lift and the whole airplane is working more efficiently and synergistically.”
A Model of Excellence
The scale model of the Flying V is built from fiberglass composite material with portions of carbon fiber for extra stability. One of the main challenges was to keep the entire weight under the regulated 25-kilogram maximum weight limit. This meant some of the electronic components had to be built and designed by the team to meet both the meticulous design criteria and regulations.
“It was a very big challenge because it’s really quite a big aircraft,” Brown said. “Its wingspan is three meters, and to get all the equipment, payloads, components and electronics onboard was a very big challenge to stay under the 25 kilograms.”
The team was also excited to demonstrate many of the advanced technological components used in the Flying V.
“We wanted to use all of the best products so that we achieved the highest result that we can,” Brown revealed. “For example, we installed Schubeler EDFs, because we needed to get up to a large speed to be able to fly this aircraft that has quite a high wing load. So Schubeler really has efficient, yet powerful EDFs that we could use.”
From January of 2019 to July of 2020, the team refined the design, implemented modifications, and polished the final model of the Flying V in preparation for the maiden flight- which was a short but successful mission. Due to weight limitations, the team couldn’t use the full load of batteries.
Brown was pleased with the results. “The flight itself went very well,” he said. “We were all quite nervous about what would happen, but then it took off and it flew well. It was stable and controllable, but we could only fly for five minutes, which is what we had calculated.”
However, those five minutes of flight produced a bounty of data to help analyze actual flight dynamics.
“We were able to identify a mathematical model for the flight dynamics of the airplane,” Dr. Vos explains. “We are now in the process of coupling that mathematical model to a real flight simulator to give pilots the opportunity to experience this airplane.”
The future of the Flying V
The successful flight of the model Flying V helps lay the foundation for the expansion of the full scale project, but there are still a number of hurdles to development. The test flight bolstered confidence and provided evidence that the design is airworthy. Dr. Vos is optimistic about the future.
“The airplane does hold a lot of promise,” he envisions. “I don’t see any major hurdles that cannot be overcome. As a matter of fact, in terms of manufacturing this airplane, it’s probably going to be even simpler than a conventional airplane that we’re now looking at. One of the things that set this airplane apart is the fact that it doesn’t have any high lift devices. We don’t need any breakthroughs in any material technologies in order for this airplane to be viable from a commercial standpoint.”
Malcolm and the team are looking forward to more flights with the model Flying V for continued flight analysis.
“So, in the next flights, we will perform step inputs on each control surface and see what the reaction is so that we excite the natural motion of the aircraft, that will extend that data envelope that we have already. We have a lot of data, but we just want to extend that and make sure that it is correct what we measured the first time around.”
Delft University will continue to study technologies like the Flying V, that will help reduce emissions and make the aviation industry more sustainable for the future.
“If we want to do that sustainably in the future,” explains Dr. Vos, “we have to look at radical technologies like the Flying-V because the tube and wing aircraft, as we know it, has fully matured. There is very little to no gain to get out of that configuration. The Flying-V is one of those innovations that deserves some good attention to really deepen out all the outstanding questions that relate to this airplane.”