Shape of things to comeFlying saucer technology to aid military, law enforcement

Published 14 September 2007

Small British company makes a UAV flying saucer; applications include close quarter surveillance and intelligence gathering for military and law enforcement, mountain rescue, and farming

UAVs are used more and more for security missions both abroad, on the battle field, and at home, by police departments and frist responders. Now, GFS Projects, a small British company based in Peterborough, says it has built the world’s first flying saucer. The 60-cm-diameter craft made its first flight at a technology event at Churchill College, Cambridge, on Wednesday. The UAV is capable of vertical take off, fully controlled flight, hovering, and landing on a specified point. It uses the Coanda effect. You may recall discussions of the Coanda effect from your school’s physics classes. The Coanda effect was discovered by Henri-Marie Coanda (1885-1972), a Romanian-French scientist, in 1930. He observed that a steam of air (or another fluid) emerging from a nozzle tends to follow a nearby curved surface, if the curvature of the surface, or angle the surface makes with the stream, is not too sharp. The GFS’s flying saucer uses the Coanda Effect to create lift. It has very little downwash and is aerodynamically stable. All prototypes have so far been battery powered, but the design is scalable and the larger versions will have internal combustion engines.

The craft can hover and fly close to and within buildings. Having no exposed rotating parts, brushes with walls do not compromise the craft’s flight. The creators of the UAV say their technology has many applications, including military and law enforcement use for close quarter surveillance and intelligence gathering, mountain rescue, and even for farmers. Inventor Geoff Hatton said the team was still a few years away from a commercial product. Flying saucers fitted with a range of sensors, including video and thermal imaging, he said, would be a very cost-effective alternative to scrambling helicopters for difficult rescue missions. Because the vehicles are unmanned, hazardous situations can be closely monitored without putting a crew at risk. Director David Steel said that ultimately it should also be possible to design one around ten metres in diameter, which is big enough to carry people. It could be used to get emergency medical teams into areas where it is impossible to land a plane or a helicopter because of difficult terrain. The saucer can land on uneven ground or even on a slope.

Back to the Coanda effect: It posits that air passed over a curved surface would reduce the pressure on its upper surface, causing the vehicle to rise. The challenge, then, is to generate sufficient airflow to create lift, while keeping the vehicle stable and preventing rotation.