Mach Initiative Seeks to Break Air-Breathing-Engine-Powered RC Airplane Speed Record

In 2017, German pilot Niels Herbrich flew his homemade remote-control plane at 465mph (Mach 0.62). Six years later, his speed record remains unbroken. The Mach Initiative aims to break this record with an aircraft named Kingfisher that is designed to reach speeds exceeding 600 mph (Mach 0.8) at sea level. A small, closely integrated team of students at the University of Bath is rapidly iterating designs, and moved from concept to manufacture of Kingfisher in under 8-months. To comply with the 2017 speed record requirements, the aircraft must use air-breathing engines, and take off and fly through a 35-meter high, 400-meter long timing track in alternate directions before landing, refueling, and repeating.

Kingfisher is a 1.3-meter long blended delta wing powered by a Jetcat P300 Pro micro-turbojet engine. Kingfisher will launch from a pneumatic catapult system, performing a series of accelerated turns to reach 610 mph (Mach 0.8 at sea level) in the timing track. To keep the inlet on the bottom for propulsive performance, the Kingfisher performs most of its flight upside down, before rolling over for a belly landing. Kingfisher also carries a parachute flight termination system, in conjunction with redundant avionics and flight-control systems. The team has worked closely with UAV firm Callen Lenz during the design phase, learning from their wealth of expertise in developing commercial UAVs. The fiberglass semi-monocoque structure, chosen for its radio transparency, was optimized using Finite Element Analysis, with internal ribs, bulkheads and spars also providing mounting points for off-the-shelf components. Four elevons control the aircraft in pitch and roll, sized to trim the aircraft even if one fails. These are controlled using a Pixhawk Cube autopilot which also supports autonomous GPS waypoint missions, along with an FPV camera and laser altimeter to maintain a 35m ground height in the timing track. Watch a video, here. Story and photos courtesy of The Mach Initiative.