Researchers Could Be on the Verge of ‘Super’ Stealth Warplanes

    David Axe


    With MAGMA, BAE Systems could be working toward aircraft designs with fewer, or no, moving surfaces — and thus much greater stealth.

    Researchers at BAE Systems and The University of Manchester successfully test-flew an experimental unmanned aerial vehicle with no moving control surfaces, BAE Systems announced in December 2017.

    The 12-foot-span, jet-propelled MAGMA drone could help BAE develop stealthier warplanes. Control surfaces account for a significant portion of an airplane’s radar signature.

    Instead of rudders, ailerons and other conventional control surfaces, MAGMA relies on two new technologies for maneuverability. Wing circulation control “takes air from the aircraft engine and blows it supersonically through the trailing edge of the wing to provide control for the aircraft,” according to BAE Systems.

    Fluidic thrust vectoring, meanwhile, “uses blown air to deflect the exhaust, allowing for the direction of the aircraft to be changed.”

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    “These trials are an important step forward in our efforts to explore adaptable airframes,” Bill Crowther, leader of the MAGMA project at The University of Manchester, said in a BAE Systems release. “What we are seeking to do through this program is truly ground-breaking.”

    For its first flight, MAGMA featured two small vertical fins for stability. But the fins, themselves a significant source of radar reflectivity, could be temporary. “Further flight trials are planned for the coming months to demonstrate the novel flight control technologies with the ultimate aim of flying the aircraft without any moving control surfaces or fins,” BAE Systems stated.

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