Aircraft in a box

ILC Dover Inc. (Frederica, Del.) is well known for its inflatable aerospace technology, including pressurized space suits and aerostats (tethered observation balloons). ILC is exploring the concept of a unmanned aircraft that can be tightly folded and transported, then deployed into an aerodynamic shape within seconds

ILC Dover Inc. (Frederica, Del.) is well known for its inflatable aerospace technology, including pressurized space suits and aerostats (tethered observation balloons). ILC is exploring the concept of a unmanned aircraft that can be tightly folded and transported, then deployed into an aerodynamic shape within seconds when inflated and exposed to sunlight. Stephen Scarborough, an ILC process engineer, describes a composite wing made with plain-weave E-glass fabric impregnated with UV-curable vinyl ester resin over an internal bladder that can be inflated within seconds. The resin developer is Adherent Technologies Inc. (Albuquerque, N.M.). The 6-ft to 8-ft long (1.8m to 2.5m) prepreg/bladder wing is highly flexible, allowing tight packing, yet can inflate and rigidize within seconds: "We have experimented with tiny embedded light-emitting diode (LED) lights within the wing, so that deployment could occur at night,"he notes. The concept has been flight tested at the University of Kentucky with NASA funding, using a balloon for launch as well as a small, powered UAV. The concept represents a very lightweight and affordable morphing alternative for slow flight regimes, says Scarborough.