An inexpensive supersonic drone would take flight by 2013 if everything goes right for its developers at the University of Colorado Boulder. The team of engineers is developing a nearly 6-foot-long (1.76 meters) unmanned aircraft that would fly at Mach 1.4, just above the speed of sound.
The aircraft, employing a small turbojet engine, should fly farther and faster, using less fuel, than current drones of comparable size, according to the university. The prototype, about 5 feet (1.27 meters) wide and 110 pounds (50 kilograms), is already twice as fuel-efficient as comparable unmanned aircraft, said lead developer Ryan Starkey.
The new drone may be used to test supersonic transport technology. It also could fly into storms to collect data or serve in military spy missions. The Navy is interested in his work, Starkey said.
It should cost $50,000 to $100,000, making it an affordable loss should a test fail. "I believe that what we're going to do is reinvigorate the testing world, and that's what we're pushing to do," Starkey said in a statement.
He has started a company, Starkey Aerospace Corp., to bring his drone to market. He plans to perform flight tests next year, according to industry magazine Aviation Week.