It is buzzing around like a wasp, sometimes making sudden movements up and down. But all in all the aircraft that is flying in the hall at the Schieweg, just outside the TU Delft campus, seems to fly quite steadily. It looks like nothing you have ever seen, somewhere between a motorcycle and a powered wingsuit. It is loosely attached to the ceiling with a rope, just as a precaution. You wouldn’t want the craft with its two large propellers to go haywire.
The students of the Silverwing team, the latest TU Delft dream team consisting of 34 students from seven faculties, are standing about 20 metres from their aircraft that is being baptised here today. They are all smiles. They believe that the footage of this test that they will submit will unlock the next stage – phase two - of the GoFly Prize competition organised by airplane manufacturer Boeing. And ultimately they may win the grand prize of USD 1 million this fall during the finals in the United States.
“We will hear next month from Boeing if they will grant us USD 50,000 to continue working on our aircraft,” says team member James Murdza. “Besides the footage of the test, we will send them an 18 page technical report containing details such as wind tunnel experiments and battery tests. We are quite confident. The results seem promising.”
The operator sits as though on a motorcycle
Silverwing is one of 10 teams that won USD 20,000 in a Boeing sponsored international competition last spring to build a fully functional flying device or jetpack. Almost 3,000 participants from 95 countries took part in this competition. Competitors had to design a flying device that can carry one person 20 miles without refueling or recharging and with vertical, or near vertical, take-off and landing capability.
The Silverwing is powered by two electric motors that allow it to take off vertically. In a next stage, the aircraft will have to make a 90 degree transition from vertical take-off to horizontal cruise flight. The operator sits as though on a motorcycle, in a kind of seat to prevent him from falling backward.
“We have to go outside to perform the tests for the transition to horizontal flight,” says Murdza. “We haven’t obtained the permit to do so yet. We are working with the Netherlands Aerospace Centre (NLR) to obtain a permit so we can do this experiment at their test location in Markenesse.”
The tests performed this week were with a half-sized scale model. This month the team will start working on the real sized version which will have a wingspan of 2.6 metres. “It needs to be ready in June at the latest so that it can be tested and shipped in time to the US where the final competition will be. Where exactly we don’t know yet. The organisation will announce that in March.”
If the students pass the second phase, they could win the grand prize of USD 1 million. They will have to demonstrate that their airplane can take off vertically and fly for at least 20 minutes before landing vertically again. Safety aspects and noise also play a role. Teams can win USD 250,000 for the quietest plane.