June 5 - Researchers at the University of Colorado are building the smallest supersonic jet engine ever made. Weighing just 22 lbs, the tiny jet will drive an unmanned aerial vehicle faster than the speed of sound and could become a template for testing future generations of civilian and military aircraft. Ben Gruber reports.
It may be small, but this prototype jet engine packs a big punch. According to aerospace engineer Ryan Starkey, it will enable an unmanned aircraft he and his team have developed, to fly faster than the speed of sound. (SOUNDBITE) (English) RYAN STARKEY, AEROSPACE ENGINEER, UNIVERSITY OF COLORADO, SAYING: "What we are doing is no different than a military jet. There are military drones that go this fast. Why what we are doing is unique is that we have shrunken it all down. You know, something that is 100 pounds going supersonic does not yet exist." Starkey says the mini jet drone will be able to fly faster and farther than anything of a similar size and weight - while using only a fraction of the fuel normally used in jet engines. (SOUNDBITE) (English) RYAN STARKEY, AEROSPACE ENGINEER, UNIVERSITY OF COLORADO, SAYING: "The engine that we have developed that we have tested in our lab is over twice as efficient as an off the shelf engine and our designs tell us that we can probably double that again which means we can now fly unmanned vehicles two to four times the range of a current engine on the same amount of fuel." Starkey says he and his team are putting the finishing touches on the jet with the hopes of shattering the aircraft speed record for its weight class later this year. Starkey hopes his prototype will reach Mach 1.5 - more than one thousand miles - per hour. But past breaking records, Starkey says the technology has real world application. (SOUNDBITE) (English) RYAN STARKEY, AEROSPACE ENGINEER, UNIVERSITY OF COLORADO, SAYING: "The ways we think about it is obviously is if you go really fast it has a military application. If you slow it down a little bit it can be used for hurricane penetration to do storm research. Across any type of speed regime what I think is the most exciting part for us is a low cost high speed flight test bed." It's a combination Starkey hopes the aerospace industry will find irresistible - a lower-cost, small-scale aircraft testing technology he says is almost ready for take off. Ben Gruber, Reuters.