Four years worth of hard-work and patience from the British team at Register’s Special Projects Bureau have finally yielded the Vulture 2, the world’s very first rocket-powered plane that is 3D printed. And even beyond its ‘printed’ credentials, the creation is touted as the “most advanced amateur UAV on the planet”. With so many superlatives to back up the design, it comes as no surprise that the aircraft is envisaged as something special. To that end, the engineers have not only thought of launching the Vulture 2 into the space, but have also made efforts to glide the plane safely back to Earth’s surface.
Envisioned as part of the Low Orbit Helium Assisted Navigator (LOHAN) mission, the Vulture 2 is expected to make its rousing elevation with the aid of a flying-truss launch platform made from carbon fiber and a helium balloon. This meteorological balloon will carry the UAV to a height of 20,000 m (65,800 ft), and from there the plane’s rocket jets will take over. The thrust will carry it further to an additional height of 5,000 m (16,450 ft) – thus making its journey almost three times as high as conventional jet planes, with a total height of 25,000 m (or 82,250 ft).
The engineers (who are actually postgraduate aeronautical design students from Southampton University) had almost achieved their project’s maiden flight in Spain, but local laws prohibited the team from transporting the rocket motor reload. Fortunately, the designers have come to know about the rocket operation-permissible Spaceport America, which is however on the other side of the Atlantic in New Mexico. This shifting of resources and man-power along with their required accommodations had promted the team to launch their Kickstarter campaign – which fortuitously had been a success, with over £30,000 ($48,000) in monetary pledges.
And, in case you are wondering about the team’s mettle, Lester Haines, who heads the Register’s Special Projects Bureau, also holds the Guinness World Record for achieving the “Highest-Altitude Launch of A Paper Plane”, when the Vulture 1 reached the astronomical elevation of 23,307 m.