The sky’s the limit for Dr Greg Gibbons, who is playing a leading role in a British project which will launch a new generation of aircraft. Dr Gibbons is spearheading the Warwick contribution to FLAVIIR – Flapless Aerial Vehicle Integrated Interdisciplinary Research.
The team effort involving 10 universities aims to develop technology for unmanned aircraft which operate with no moving control flaps. Instead, they harness streams of air to manage pitch and roll - a system known as fluidic thrust vectoring.
This means they are lighter, cheaper, easier to maintain and harder to detect, with spin-offs in terms of stealth and reconnaissance capacity as well as their use in humanitarian aid.
Dr Gibbons, head of WMG’S Rapid Prototyping and Tooling team based at the International Automotive Research Centre, explains: “Our role involves developing the tooling to enable the low-cost manufacture of the composite structure. Our focus is on fully re-configurable durable tooling, allowing a single tool to manufacture a range of components, significantly reducing the overall cost of the airframe. The other universities are looking at areas such as aerodynamics, control systems and electromagnetic susceptibility.”
The £6.2 million project is sponsored by BAE Systems and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, with Warwick’s research supported by the Warwick Innovative Manufacturing Research Centre (WIMRC). The aim is to build a flying demonstration model by 2009.
Dr Gibbons, now a senior research fellow, gained a BSc and a PhD, both in physics, at Warwick. After a period of post-doctoral research at Warwick, he left to become a patent editor with intellectual property firm Derwent Information in London.
In 1997 he returned to Warwick as a research assistant working on a the EPSRC funded project ‘IMI Spray Mould’, developing tooling for composite component manufacture for the automotive and aerospace industries.
He then became principal investigator for CASPUR (Coating and Processing for Sustainable Upgrade and Repair of Tooling), a project again backed by the WIMRC. The aim was to develop low-cost aluminium tooling to allow vehicle manufacturers exploring new markets to produce many more parts – in this case interior trim – to meet a higher demand.
More recently, Dr Gibbons’ rapid prototyping work has extended to the field of healthcare and biomedical applications. Working with the new University Hospital at Walsgrave in Coventry he is looking at taking CAD data of patients prior to orthopaedic operations – such as a pelvic reconstruction – so that new parts can be made to suit a patient’s physical requirements. “The aim is to tailor the operation to the person so that they have a better outcome,” he explains.
Dr Gibbons is a member of the EPSRC College and a committee member of the Rapid Prototyping and Manufacturing Association.