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Lift off for pioneering research collaboration

24 September 2015

Chris Theobald

World’s first unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) flight incorporating graphene hailed a success

A pioneering collaboration between two North West universities has resulted in a successful world-first aeronautic flight test.

The research initiative, between the University of Central Lancashire’s (UCLan) Engineering Innovation Centre (EIC), and The University of Manchester’s National Graphene Institute, saw the first flight of a UAV part-constructed with graphene.

Among many applications the new nano-material could be of major benefit to the aviation industry; it is the thinnest material on Earth, 200 times stronger than steel, fire resistant and a powerful insulator.

The test flight, carried out in Preston, sought to trial graphene on the wing of a UAV to test its robustness, aerodynamic properties and how it might be integrated into the manufacturing process.

Billy Beggs, UCLan’s Engineering Innovation Manager, said: “This demonstration was a world first and our initial flight tests have been very encouraging.

“This demonstration was a world first and our initial flight tests have been very encouraging.”

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(Pic L-R: Rob Wallace, Dean of the School of Engineering, UCLan EIC; Dr Darren Ansell, Space and Aerospace Engineering Lead UCLan EIC; James Baker, National Graphene Institute; Dr Paul Wiper, National Graphene Institute; Professor Ian Kinloch, National Graphene Institute and Billy Beggs, Engineering Innovation Manager UCLan EIC.)

“Graphene has huge potential for aerospace; it is incredibly strong, yet lightweight and flexible at the same time. Through our partnership with the National Graphene Institute at The University of Manchester, and alongside a number of Lancashire-based SMEs, we aim to develop a route map that enables graphene to play a key role in the future development of the aviation industry.

“The phrase ‘Northern Powerhouse’ is sometimes overused but this is a real and fantastic example of expertise within the public and private sectors working together for the long term benefit of our local, regional and national economies.”

James Baker, Graphene Business Director at the National Graphene Institute added: “This is the first demonstration of a UAV containing graphene components, in this case a graphene coated wing. The aim is to investigate the potential effects of graphene in drag reduction, thermal management and ultimately the ability to achieve lightning strike protection for aerospace and other related opportunities.

“Working with a number of universities and SME’s we aim to provide further demonstrations and enhance engagement between academia and the supply chain to achieve the goals of commercialising graphene applications.”

Watch the video of the aeronautic flight test.

See pictures from the aeronautic flight test.