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Record-breaking supersonic UAV jet in the works


March 1, 2012

The GoJett supersonic UAV is promised to go faster, using less fuel, than other aircraft in its weight class (Image: Ryan Starkey/University of Colorado)

The GoJett supersonic UAV is promised to go faster, using less fuel, than other aircraft in its weight class (Image: Ryan Starkey/University of Colorado)

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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.

An earlier design of the GoJett, in a test conducted by the U.S. Air Force Academy (Image: Ryan Starkey/University of Colorado)

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.

Ryan Starkey (left) with three of his team members, and some L-FX00 engine nozzle models (Photo: Glenn Asakawa/University of Colorado)

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.

Sources: University of Colorado, Boulder; eSpace; Starkey Aerospace Corp

About the Author
Ben Coxworth An experienced freelance writer, videographer and television producer, Ben's interest in all forms of innovation is particularly fanatical when it comes to human-powered transportation, film-making gear, environmentally-friendly technologies and anything that's designed to go underwater. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, where he spends a lot of time going over the handlebars of his mountain bike, hanging out in off-leash parks, and wishing the Pacific Ocean wasn't so far away. All articles by Ben Coxworth

Why no shockwave-nosecone? If the LX-100 is a traditional turbojet then some form of variable geometry intake is needed, as used on all supersonic jets - maybe it's internal.


Hat's off to him if it's true. Hard to believe that he could trump the throngs of aerospace and military engineers already engaged in this objective. Sometimes a fresh set of eyes is what's required to see a fresh set of solutions. We'll have to wait and see...


Use a fleet of these to attack storms capable of developing tornados. Hopefully, it would be seasonal work. It's fast enough to get to storms before they become dangerous. It's likely cheap enough to lose a few fighting tornadic winds. How would it work? Tornados are vertical air systems. Tornados require nearly identical circumstances/conditions to begin doing damage on the ground. Just flying through a tornado forming cloud horizontally would induce enough chaotic air to disrupt funnel formation.

Ross Nicholson

I have a problem with some of the claims here.

First, "Double the efficiency" of current Jet Engines. That puts this engine at a higher efficiency than a Carnot engine. I just don't believe in 110% efficiency.

Second, the no wear engine. If there are moving parts, there is wear. For that matter, at supersonic velocities, even non moving parts experience wear from the air flow.

This drone may fly, might even fly faster than sound, but the claims in the Article are overblown, at least.


Claims are always overblown in the media....

Probably the efficiency increase would be for a similar sized engine, which are notoriously inefficient.

They are competing with engines in the RC jet class.... starting with a high of around 20% fuel efficiency (not weight efficiency).

Granted over 70% efficiency can be theoretically be gained from a thermodynamic power system... not that a jet engine is likely to ever get more than 40%...

Good to have development.... may lead to cheaper ways to throw payloads at people a long way away and other uses.


While I don't know about wear from supersonic velocities (I don't think they replace the skins on supersonic jets for that) I do know the Carnot engine looses efficiency fighting inertial forces. Cars loose efficiency through the drive-train, and turbine engines loose efficiency through friction. A jet engine without lubrication has to use a fast moving air cushion to prevent moving parts from touching (friction-less). The fact that the moving parts have no point of contact allows them to move much much faster, cooler, and perhaps quieter. I'm really happy to think this will be available soon.

YetAnotherBob - If this thing works at all I'll bet the claims are understated.

Brendan Scott

So when is this UAV scheduled to be actually tested and enter service? It looks exciting so I don't want it to remain futuristic for long. How about such aircraft even being used for combat like the American Drones? I think such a UAV should be put into service in the not too distant future. With the aid of modern computers I wouldn't have thought it should take very long to develop.

Jeremy Keller
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