Record-breaking supersonic UAV jet in the works
By Ben Coxworth
March 1, 2012
University of Colorado aerospace engineer Ryan Starkey is currently designing what he claims will be fastest, most fuel-efficient aircraft in its class. Known as the GoJett, the unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) will be powered by a new type of jet engine that he is also developing - the L-FX00. According to Starkey, that engine already has twice the fuel-efficiency of similarly-scaled jet engines, and he expects to double that efficiency again before the GoJett's first flight.
Construction on the GoJett prototype will begin in two weeks. It will weigh 50 kilograms (110 lbs), and measure approximately 5 feet (1.5 m) wide by six feet (1.8 m) long. Its thrust capacity reportedly should allow it to reach a flight speed of Mach 1.4 - whatever speed it actually does reach, Ryan is confident that it will be a record for UAVs in its weight class.
The aircraft should be worth approximately US$50,000 to $100,000. For what it's claimed to be, that's actually pretty cheap.
Few details are being revealed about the L-FX00 engine, other than that it is lighter and more fuel-efficient than similar engines, and is lubrication-free - this leads to it also apparently requiring less maintenance. Besides going into UAVs like the GoJett, it is also intended for use in cruise missiles. Variations on the basic engine, including models with "fluidic thrust vectoring and afterburner capabilities," are apparently being considered.
Starkey has been developing the aircraft and engine with the help of a team of students from the University of Colorado, Boulder. In order to commercialize the technology, however, he has also recently started up his own spin-off company, Starkey Aerospace Corp. It was developed through the non-profit business incubator, eSpace.
Testing of the GoJett prototype is set for later this year. Ryan believes that it could ultimately be used to fly into and analyze storms, test low-sonic-boom supersonic transport aircraft technology, and perform military reconnaissance. The U.S. Army, Navy, DARPA and NASA have all shown interest in the project.