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Aerospace Professors Receive Patent for Propulsion System

March 3, 2005

University of Texas at Arlington Mechanical & Aerospace Engineering Professors Don Wilson and Frank Lu have been issued U. S. Patent 6,857,261 for their design of a Multi-mode, Pulsed Detonation Propulsion System. The system can employ various propulsion modes at various times of flight and has potential applications for hypersonic and aerospace planes.

Drs. Wilson and Lu have been working on pulsed detonation propulsion for more than 10 years. The idea for a multi-mode application came to Dr. Wilson after a former Ph.D. student informed him in 1999 of the Air Force’s interest in a propulsion system that could take an aircraft from a standard, runway take-off up to an Earth orbit. Existing designs to achieve this incorporated four systems, or flow paths for each segment of the flight: gas turbine jet engines, ramjets, scramjets and rockets.

Drs. Wilson and Lu then teamed to design a propulsion system using one flow path based on pulse detonation. Using funds from Small Business Innovative Research and Texas Board of Higher Education Advanced Technology Program grants and their own funds, the two build computational fluid dynamics simulations and functioning engines to test their concepts. Their versatile creation operates in an ejector-augmented pulsed detonation rocket propulsion mode; a pulsed, normal detonation wave engine mode; a steady, oblique detonation wave engine mode; and a pure, pulsed detonation rocket mode.

The first mode, an ejector-augmented pulsed detonation rocket, is currently undergoing testing in the Mechanical & Aerospace Engineering Department’s Aerodynamic Research Center. The completed propulsion system will be more efficient, have fewer moving parts and weigh less than a competing four flow path system. The system could power supersonic unmanned aerial vehicles and hypersonic cruise missiles in addition to manned aircraft.