High Efficiency Propeller for Small Unmanned X Systems (UxS)
Navy STTR 2020.A - Topic N20A-T006
NAVAIR - Ms. Donna Attick donna.attick@navy.mil
Opens: January 14, 2020 - Closes: February 12, 2020 (8:00 PM ET)


TITLE: High Efficiency Propeller for Small Unmanned X Systems (UxS)


TECHNOLOGY AREA(S): Air Platform, Ground/Sea Vehicles, Materials/Processes


OBJECTIVE: Develop a radically new lightweight polymer or ceramic composite propeller for use in small unmanned X systems (UxS).

DESCRIPTION: The performance of propeller-driven aircraft is dependent upon both the structural properties of the propeller and its design. With lower strength materials (wood, nylon, carbon composite), it is necessary to have a large propeller cross section to survive the high tensile stresses during operation. For optimal performance however, it is desirable to have a thin aerofoil. Designers of high-performance propellers use propeller-unique stress analysis packages that compute peak stress and fatigue endurance together with blade cross-section geometric properties required for structural analysis. Stresses are evaluated in terms of bending (thrust and drag), centrifugal (inertia), and torsional (acceleration) components. Fatigue endurance margins are estimated assuming Goodman, Gerber, and Smith criteria. The result of this analysis shows that high modulus, high strength materials are particularly beneficial in the fabrication of propellers since the high tensile strength allows the fabrication of thin aerofoil shapes while the high modulus ensures high resistance to bending, thereby maintaining the designed optimal shape and a high natural frequency, thereby avoiding resonance issues. For practical applications, it is also desirable for these high modulus materials to be impact damage resistant, thereby being able to survive small impacts from objects (such as a pebble or twig) during takeoff and landing, and rain or hail on the blades.

Design, fabricate, and test a new Scimitar or similar type propeller to increase aerodynamic efficiency with a two- to four four-fold increase with a new propeller design. The design must be of very lightweight high modulus ceramic composites to provide a 10-12 db average reduction in radiated noise compared to the state-of-the-art commercially available hobby enthusiast propellers. These materials incorporated with new propeller designs would increase propeller performance from 16%-30% with existing materials and designs to 80% thereby significantly improving the speed, duration and distance covered for all quadcopter drones and propeller driven UxVs. Current materials are wood, plastic, and carbon fiber composites and propeller designs are for example: Bolly Products 17x10 (two bladed) and Tarot 1555 High Strength Plastic / Carbon fiber.

Existing blades for small Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) drones are approximately 16%-30% (55%-60% for larger tactical UAV propellers) efficient in their conversion of rotational blade movement into thrust. With careful design and the use of advanced high strength, high modulus materials, this efficiency can be increased to greater than 80%. For example, this can improve existing 30-minute flight durations to greater than 2 hours, or if applied to small tactical fuel powered UAVs, such as Scan Eagle or Shadow, improve the distance traveled on a gallon of fuel for every 100 miles to greater than 150 miles.

PHASE I: Perform initial plan-form and airfoil design work to optimize noise reduction and efficiency. Base the design on a Scimitar or similar type propeller design. Develop and demonstrate feasibility of the concept for cost-effective polymer and ceramic materials. Phase I effort will include prototype plans to be developed under Phase II.

PHASE II: Develop and test prototype composite propellers including proposed interfaces. Carry out design and validation testing to confirm that reliable, characteristic acoustic signatures can be obtained without interference from other sources. For best transition to UxS application, ensure that the system fits within the space currently provided by the UxS and within current guards if available. Design propellers that have the same diameter when deployed as the current propeller. Incorporate experimentation results into final and other concept designs. Demonstrate the technology in a realistic environment under proper loading for 10-hour duration. Fabricate and test the propeller design. Perform any redesigns as necessary. Test the full system to validate design and performance on quad-copter drone UAS. Fabricate and deliver 30 pairs/sets of prototypes for Government testing.

PHASE III DUAL USE APPLICATIONS: Complete final testing, perform necessary integration and transition for use in anti-submarine and countermine warfare, counter surveillance, and monitoring operations with appropriate current platforms and agencies, and future combat systems under development.

Successful development could enable longer duration vehicle endurance, behaviorally sensitive animal studies to observe without disruption, and the hobby industry (remote control (RC) fixed- or rotary-wing air vehicles.


1. Tellis B.C., Szivek J.A., Bliss C.L., Margolis D.S., Vaidyanathan R.K. andCalvert P. “Trabecular Scaffolds Created Using Micro CT Guided Fused Deposition Modeling.’ Materials Science & Engineering C (Biomimetic and Supramolecular Systems), vol.28, no.1, 10 Jan. 2008, pp. 171-178. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/50990051_Trabecular_scaffolds_created_using_micro_CT_guided_fused_deposition_modeling

2. Jeracki, R. and Mitchell, G. “Low and High Speed Propellers for General Aviation - Performance Potential and Recent Wind Tunnel Test Results.” NASA Technical Memorandum 81745.  https://ntrs.nasa.gov/archive/nasa/casi.ntrs.nasa.gov/19810012499.pdf

3. Dekanski, C. W. “Design and Analysis of Propeller Blade Geometry using the PDE Method.” PhD Thesis, University of Leeds. http://etheses.whiterose.ac.uk/4168/1/uk_bl_ethos_569278.pdf

KEYWORDS: Propeller; Material; Aerodynamic; Ceramic; Structures; Turbulence