Virtual AeroSurface Technologies (VAST), a company assisted by Georgia Tech’s VentureLab program, has received a Small Business Technology Transfer contract from the U.S. Air Force for $750,000.
Flow control technology could allow military and civilian aircraft to fly without wing flaps.
The Air Force contract brings total funding for VAST to $920,000, including other contracts from the Air Force and the Army. The flow-control-technology company, a member of Georgia Tech’s VentureLab for the past two years, is the 10th company to be formed and win financing while in VentureLab.
“VAST is commercializing technologies coming out of Prof. Ari Glezer’s flow-control work at School of Mechanical Engineering,” said Tom Crittenden, VAST’s vice president of research and development and a part-time member of the research faculty in mechanical engineering. “We believe these technologies are going to have several important real-world applications.”
Among those potential uses are:
- Allowing military and civilian aircraft to fly without wing flaps, thereby greatly decreasing weight and making planes more efficient, maneuverable and reliable;
- Enabling helicopters to fly faster and more efficiently by using flow control techniques to lessen fuselage drag;
- Steering military munitions in flight, making such projectiles more accurate and efficient;
- Altering air flow over tractor-trailer trucks, thereby saving 10 to 15 percent in fuel consumption at highway speeds;
- Regulating the speed of wind turbines, thus protecting them from the disrupting effects of wind variations.
“VAST is working on technologies that could have a revolutionary effect on future aviation, among other things,” said Stephen Fleming, Georgia Tech’s chief commercialization officer. “The fact that they’ve gotten major phase-two Air Force funding is very satisfying for Commercialization Services – it’s a big part of what we do here.”
Flow-control technology involves the use of tiny jets embedded in a smooth surface such as an airplane wing or a projectile. The jets are of two types: those that use an electronically driven piezoceramic element to blow out minute puffs of air, and those that use “combustion actuators” – small explosive charges – to create tiny but powerful jets that can reach supersonic speeds.
Crittenden explained that combustion-actuator technology is best suited to objects that move faster than Mach 0.25, or about 190 miles per hour, such as aircraft wings and munitions. Piezoceramic element technology is better suited to objects moving at speeds below that point.
Crittenden believes the first application of VAST technology could involve flap-less flight control in full-scale unmanned aerial combat vehicles such as the experimental Boeing UCAV. He envisions applying such flight-control technology to other military aircraft eventually and even to passenger planes someday.
“Ultimately, we’d like to become a permanent partner with a large airframe company once the technology is developed enough,” he said. “We’ve done a couple of projects with Boeing. ... Hopefully we’ll be able to show them that this is something they should be looking at for their next generation of planes and UAVs.”
VAST originally received a Phase 1 Small Business Technology Transfer contract of about $100,000 from the Air Force for proof-of-concept work. The current second-phase contract of $750,000 is to be spent over two years. VAST also previously received a Phase I Small Business Innovation Research contract from the U.S. Army for $70,000.
“VentureLab helped VAST by giving us access to business knowledge and expertise which we lacked,” Crittenden said. “VentureLab helped us assess the markets where the technology could be useful and expand in directions we hadn’t previously considered.”
Georgia Tech’s Commercialization Services, a division of the Office of Economic Development and Technology Ventures, helps identify Georgia Tech discoveries with potential commercial value. When it finds a promising technology, Commercialization Services either helps negotiate technology-licensing agreements with existing companies, or its VentureLab unit assists fledgling companies through the critical feasibility and first-funding phases.