There is a high potential for civil applications of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) in areas such as goods transport, telecommunication, remote monitoring and sensing, surveillance, search and rescue, and disaster management. Developments in areas such as telecommunication, control and information technology offer opportunities for long range remotely or automatically piloted missions. This requires efficient and light-weight small propulsion systems.

The potential of turboprop propulsion for civil UAVs using micro turbine technology has been explored and compared with existing concepts, such as piston engine driven propellers. Different propulsion concepts have been analyzed and the application areas where advanced turboprops would be superior to other systems such as reciprocating engines and electric motors, identified. However, turboprop engines of the small power capacity required for the aircraft concepts and missions considered are not currently available with competitive performance.

A conceptual design study of a micro turboprop engine has been performed by downscaling an existing reference engine. Scale effects on efficiency have been taken into account, as well as effects of technological progress. Engine cycle optimization has been carried out and the effects of turbine inlet temperature, compressor pressure ratio, engine size, and component efficiency have been investigated. An aerodynamic and flight performance model of a baseline UAV has been developed in order to predict mission performance. This model has been coupled to a turboprop model to evaluate system performance with different engine configurations for the selected mission.

The outcome of the study provides information about the technological improvements in terms of cycle efficiency required to make the micro-turboprop a competitive solution. The Propulsion and Power group of Delft University of Technology will pursue these R&D goals in an attempt to contribute to the development of civil UAV technology.

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