UAV engine uses standard military fuel

Ricardo has developed an engine family for unmanned aerial vehicles that runs on US-military/NATO standard JP-8 fuel.

UAVs are becoming increasingly important for surveillance, ordnance delivery and observation tasks both for the military, security forces and fire fighting. However, until now, they have been typically powered by engines originally designed for lawn mowers and model aircraft.

They are also mostly powered by petrol, which has to either be specially shipped into military theatre, or obtained locally, when it may be of very variable quality. JP-8, on the other hand, is a US and UK standard military fuel based on kerosene, which is used for almost all military vehicles as well as heating, has a flash point of 38°C, and is closely related to commercial aviation jet fuel.

The first of the new engines, the 'Wolverine 3', is a 3.1 HP, two cylinder, two stroke, air cooled engine with spark ignition, direct fuel injection and 500W of on board power, delivered by an integrated starter generator. It was taken from concept to production readiness in six months. First running on a dynamometer took place in early May and its first flight is scheduled for Summer 2010 at the Nevada test site.

Since 2006, the U.S. military's UAV operations have grown from 165,000 hours to more than 550,000 hours annually, according to the U.S. Department of Defense and the Pentagon's investment has more than doubled to $4billion. Currently, the U.S. Air Force trains more unmanned than manned aircraft pilots.

Tom Shelley

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