Lift off for pioneering UAV collaboration

UAV graphene flight test
(L to R) Dr Rob Wallace, Dean of the School of Engineering (UCLan EIC); Dr Darren Ansell, space & aerospace engineering lead (UCLan EIC); James Baker, Dr Paul Wiper and Professor Ian Kinloch (all National Graphene Institute), and Billy Beggs, engineering innovation manager (UCLan EIC).

A pioneering collaboration between two North West UK universities has successfully resulted in World’s first unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) flight incorporating graphene.

The research initiative, between the University of Central Lancashire’s (UCLan) Engineering Innovation Centre (EIC), and The University of Manchester’s National Graphene Institute, saw the first flight of a UAV part-constructed with graphene.

Among many applications the new nano-material could be of major benefit to the aviation industry; it’s the thinnest material on Earth, 200 times stronger than steel, fire resistant and a powerful insulator.

The test flight – carried out in Preston – sought to trial graphene on the wing of a UAV to test its robustness, aerodynamic properties and how it might be integrated into the manufacturing process.

UCLan’s engineering innovation manager, Billy Beggs commented: “This demonstration was a world first and our initial flight tests have been very encouraging.

“Graphene has huge potential for aerospace; it is incredibly strong, yet lightweight and flexible at the same time. Through our partnership with the National Graphene Institute at The University of Manchester, and alongside a number of Lancashire-based SMEs, we aim to develop a route map that enables graphene to play a key role in the future development of the aviation industry.

Beggs continued: “The phrase ‘Northern Powerhouse’ is sometimes overused, but this is a real and fantastic example of expertise within the public and private sectors working together for the long term benefit of our local, regional and national economies.”

Graphene business director at the National Graphene Institute, James Baker, added: “This is the first demonstration of a UAV containing graphene components, in this case a graphene coated wing.

“The aim is to investigate the potential effects of graphene in drag reduction, thermal management and ultimately the ability to achieve lightning strike protection for aerospace and other related opportunities.

“Working with a number of universities and SME’s we aim to provide further demonstrations and enhance engagement between academia and the supply chain to achieve the goals of commercialising graphene applications.”