Ricardo Announces New Wolverine Family of Engines for Unmanned Aerial Vehicles

May 25, 2010

VAN BUREN TOWNSHIP, Mich., May 25 /PRNewswire/ —

  • Michigan-based team takes first Wolverine engine from concept to production readiness in six months.
  • Wolverine 3 is a purpose-built, heavy fuel engine designed to achieve breakthrough levels of capability, packaging and reliability.
  • First fire in May followed by a summer 2010 test flight.

Ricardo Inc., the U.S. subsidiary of Ricardo plc, the leading independent provider of technology, product innovation and engineering solutions to the world’s automotive, defense, transport and new energy industries, today announced that it is developing a new purpose-built family of unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) engines called Wolverine for both civilian and military applications.

The first engine in the family – the Ricardo Wolverine 3 – is designed to power lightweight aircraft and use military-spec heavy fuels. It is a 3.1-horsepower, two-cylinder, two-stroke, air-cooled engine with spark ignition, direct fuel injection and 500 watts of on-board power, thanks to an integrated starter-generator. Ricardo is studying plans to develop Wolverine engines to power UAVs with heavier payload and greater range and endurance requirements.

“UAVs are extremely versatile and give our soldiers tactical and operational advantages on the battlefield. That’s why the Pentagon’s investment in UAVs has more than doubled to $4 billion since 2006,” said Kent Niederhofer, president of Ricardo, Inc. “In addition, UAVs are becoming an increasingly valuable tool for border protection, drug interdiction, firefighting and more. Whatever the mission, Ricardo will engineer Wolverine engines that are far more capable and vastly more reliable than what’s in use today.”

Engineers at Ricardo’s Detroit Technology Campus in Van Buren Township have taken the Wolverine 3 from concept to production readiness in six months, and they successfully completed the engine’s “first fire” on a dynamometer test stand in early May.

Next, the Wolverine 3 will be installed in a small tactical UAV in preparation for its first flight, which is scheduled for summer 2010 at the Nevada test site. Ricardo is currently in talks with over a dozen UAV integrators about putting the engine into series production.

Ricardo’s Lightweight, Heavy-Fuel Solution

Over the last decade, military UAVs have been developed to carry out a wide range of missions, from surveillance to heavy-ordnance delivery. Since 2006, the U.S. military’s UAV operations have grown from about 165,000 hours to more than 550,000 hours annually, according to the Department of Defense. Today, the U.S. Air Force actually trains more unmanned than manned aircraft pilots.

According to Dr. Ron Storm, director, military market development at Ricardo, smaller UAVs routinely carry multimillion-dollar systems of cameras, sensors and other electronics, but are typically powered by gasoline engines originally designed for lawn and garden equipment, or model planes.

“Today, the engine is the weak link in the UAV system, especially in these smaller aircraft,” said Storm. “The military and aircraft integrators worked with off-the-shelf engines and adapted them for UAVs so they could deploy the technology to war fighters rapidly. However, the engines weren’t designed as part of a complete system around the needs of soldiers in the field, so failures have been unacceptably high.”

To understand the specific needs of UAV customers and pilots, Ricardo worked with military and civilian experts, including Rick Scudder, director of the University of Dayton (Ohio) Research Institute’s Center for UAV Exploitation, and Larrell Walters, director of the University of Dayton-led Institute for Development and Commercialization of Advanced Sensors Technology.

“This program has been an exciting collaboration,” said Stephen Cakebread, Ricardo project director, unmanned systems, and architect of the Wolverine 3. “As we learned more from people with hands-on UAV development and in-field experience, we realized that an engine that isn’t purpose-built for aviation is going to be inherently compromised from the standpoint of performance, weight, package efficiency and durability.”

In particular, relying on gasoline creates logistical and reliability problems in the field, Ricardo learned.

“Most military vehicles and stationary power sources use heavy fuels, so gasoline is often shipped in at enormous expense or sourced locally, which means that octane and purity levels can vary widely,” said Ricardo’s Tom Howell, chief engineer. “It’s not uncommon for engines to fail after only a few hours of service, and poor fuel quality is often the culprit. Our heavy-fuel design will help reduce these costly failures that put lives at risk.”

    Key specifications of the Wolverine 3 include:
    Configuration              2-Cylinder
    Cycle                       2-Stroke
    Cooling                       Air
    Power              3.1hp              2.3kW
                       -----              -----
    Displacement     5.37 cu in             88cc
    Max. Speed                 6,000 rpm
    Ignition                     Spark
     Injection                   Direct
    Starting           Starter Generator 500W
    Width               10.5"             267mm
                        -----             -----
    Height               6.9"             175mm
                         ----             -----
    Length                7.6"            193mm

About Ricardo

With technical centers and offices throughout Europe, the United States and Asia, Ricardo provides strategic consulting and engineering expertise ranging from vehicle systems integration, controls and electronics, and hardware and software development, to the latest driveline and transmission systems and gasoline, diesel, hybrid and fuel-cell powertrain technologies. Ricardo’s customers include the world’s major automakers and suppliers as well as manufacturers in the military, commercial, off-highway and clean-energy sectors. The company also serves in advisory roles to governmental and independent agencies. Ricardo’s U.S. operation, Ricardo Inc., is headquartered in Van Buren Township, Michigan. Ricardo plc posted sales of $300 million in financial year 2009 and is a constituent of the FTSE TechMark 100 index — a group of innovative technology companies listed on the London Stock Exchange. For more information, visit www.ricardo.com.

SOURCE Ricardo, Inc.

Source: newswire

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