Expanding the Small UAV Design Space with Inflatable Wings 2007-01-3911
The paper presents work on development, testing and vehicle integration of inflatable wings for small UAVs. Recent advances in the design of inflatable lifting surfaces have removed previous deterrents to their use and multiple wing designs have been successfully flight tested on UAVs. Primary benefits of inflatable wings include stowability (deploy upon command) and robustness (highly resistant to damage). The inflatable planforms can be either full- or partial-span designs allowing a large design space and mission adaptability. The wings can be stowed when not in use and inflated prior to or during flight. Since inflatable designs have improved survivability over rigid wings, this has the prospect of increasing vehicle robustness and combat survivability. Damage resistance of inflatable wings is shown from results of laboratory and flight tests. Since the wings lack conventional control surfaces, other control strategies have been investigated including wing warping, which has been shown to be just as effective and has numerous advantages over traditional control methods. Mechanical manipulation of the wing shape on a test vehicle has been demonstrated to be an effective means of roll control through full scale flight testing. This paper discusses these advantages and disadvantages of inflatable wings for use in UAVs, particularly those designs focusing on small vehicles and use in extreme environments.