The Idea

The advent of folding wing designs surfaced during the early 20th century and was used for transporting biplanes via ship carriers. With the commercialization and militarization of the air domain, the advancements made to the folding wing mechanisms present an opportunity for small-scale fixed wing Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) to use this mechanism for the purpose of high-altitude deployment. 

This project aims to design a fold-able wing mechanism to be incorporated into a High Altitude Long Endurance (HALE) fixed wing UAV which is bound by the space provided by its carrier (e.g. rockets, high-altitude balloons or any tubular structure). To integrate the folding mechanism, a high-altitude wing structure will be designed to facilitate the mechanism. The wing will be designed to fly within the limits imposed by the Earth’s atmosphere at high altitudes (>8km). A high-altitude variant of the UAV wing is designed to incorporate this research project into existing student-led projects. 

The wide range of benefits that come with implementing a rapidly deploy-able folding wing mechanism will enable UAV’s to present itself as a viable option to many market sectors including the space, military and humanitarian sectors. The space sector can utilize aforesaid mechanisms to reduce the footprint of the UAV when packed into a spacecraft, hence improving the payload capacity. Such UAV’s can be used to study the atmosphere of neighboring planets whereby a UAV that is compact can be of vital importance. The military and humanitarian sectors could benefit from the rapid response times offered by such mechanisms. The normalizing of this mechanism in the future could also lead to a potential shift in commercial UAV designs to adopt wing folding mechanisms for its ease of use and transport.

This research project sets up specifications and requirements for the realisation of a High altitude UAV for rapid deployment. This will be taken forward through a student-led project that can be implemented into the university’s Sheffield Space Initiative (SSI) umbrella of related projects. The SSI includes a rocket development project named SunRide that could be a potential carrier for this concept UAV. This project thus will be taken up by students in the following academic year and will fast track into prototype and manufacturing phase after the design of the folding wing mechanism and various other subsystems. The students will be guided by the research conducted during summer break of 2020 and will have the opportunity to work towards the goals and aims of the SSI which is to further engage students in science and engineering challenges involved in the exploration of space.