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 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.