Color Change

Color can have a significant functional role in unmanned aircraft design, mostly in terms of making the aircraft less conspicuous (camouflage) or more conspicuous for easier tracking from the ground (bright, contrasting colors, red/green wingtips to allow better judgment of attitude); but are there other concept-level choices we can make here? For example, could an externally placed camera (source of parasitic drag!) be replaced with one placed inside a fuselage or payload pod covered with transparent skin panels? Can a transparent “canopy” over the payload or the avionics bay expedite preflight visual system health checks?

Discarding (and Recovery?)

In the intensely weight-conscious mind of the aircraft engineer, the possibility of discarding components once they have fulfilled their function should always be present.

  • • Could external, podded fuel tanks be designed to be jettisoned when empty? Of course, this is feasible only when such an operation can be conducted in a safe environment where the falling object cannot cause harm and the tank can later be retrieved to avoid damage to the natural environment.
  • • Could the undercarriage be left behind after the take-off run (trolley take-off or Lockheed U-2 style fall-away gears)?
  • • Pushing this to the limit, could the whole aircraft be discarded after the mission? This is the natural mode of operation of many target drones used for artillery practice or missile testing, but is the mission being considered one where the aircraft could be made so cheaply that, upon completion of the mission, the aircraft could simply be discarded or recycled? A typical example might be humanitarian or disaster relief operations, where single-use gliders launched from balloons or “mother ship” aircraft could fly their payload to a crash landing in the disaster zone.[1]

  • [1] In 2015, the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) ran a call for an unmanned aircraft designwith the brief that it would have to be balloon-launchable and, upon landing, it would not only be discarded, butvanish, leaving nothing but the payload behind (in practice, this would require all the airframe materials to subli-mate/evaporate). In June 2016, PARC and DZYNE were selected for Phase I of the development project.
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