ADIFO: The hyper-agile, omnidirectional, supersonic flying saucer
At low speed, it operates like a quadcopter, at high speed, it's a jet-propelled, highly efficient supersonic aircraft whose entire body acts as a low-drag wing. Those are the claims of the Romanian creators of this flying saucer that's designed to offer unprecedented aerial agility across a broad range of speeds.
ADIFO, or the All-DIrectional Flying Object, is a flying machine designed "to change the actual paradigm of flight," according to engineer and inventor Razvan Sabie. Sabie worked with accomplished aerodynamicist Iosif Taposu (Senior Scientist at Romania's National Institute for Aerospatial Research, and former Head of Theoretical Aerodynamics at the National Aviation Institute) to develop the concept, and has built a working prototype with a 1.2-meter (3.9-ft) diameter for testing.
Simply put, ADIFO is a disc-shaped aircraft whose entire surface is a wing. Specifically, it's shaped to mimic the back half of a dolphin airfoil, radiating out in all directions from the center. The outer edge tapers to a thin ring, making it extremely slippery in horizontal flight.
VTOL and slow speed maneuvers are handled by four ducted fans, letting the ADIFO operate like a regular quadcopter drone. There are also two jets on the back (replaced by additional electric fans on the prototype) that provide horizontal thrust, and which can also vector individually to achieve a high degree of agility in level flight. At high speeds, small discs can come out and cover over the quadcopter fans for an even smoother profile, and likewise the legs can retract.
The final propulsive touch is a set of two lateral thrust nozzles pointed out to each side, which operate like the reaction control system thrusters on a spacecraft. In horizontal flight, these allow the ADIFO to rapidly push itself sideways in either direction, or to rotate extremely quickly as it flies. That, according to Sabie, gives it maneuvering capabilities unmatched by anything else in the air, without the need for separate wings, ailerons, rudders or flaps.
There's more: it'll fly upside down, either in quad mode or in horizontal flight, with the right jets it'll be extremely efficient as it goes transonic and supersonic, and Sabie says the team's modeling suggests there will be no traditional sonic boom created when it does.
While the prototype is obviously unmanned and radio controlled, the ADIFO team claims it has the potential to democratize supersonic flight if it gets built into a single or multi-seat manned aircraft with a hybrid electric/jet propulsion system. It'll be interesting to see how the team builds pilot visibility into the mix, and what sort of control scheme you'll need to handle the flying saucer's variety of flight modes and control options.
It's a fascinating idea, and could clearly offer some mind-bending acrobatic flight capabilities once the wrinkles are ironed out. There's certainly nothing else out there that can hover and dart about like a drone, while also offering extreme high-speed performance as well as the ability to spin wildly or suddenly produce thrust in five different directions at speed – not to mention potentially employing the main ducted fans to tilt or even flip the aircraft in horizontal flight. The mind boggles just thinking about what this could do in the hands of a well-trained pilot – as well as how treacherous it could be for the ham-fisted.
At the same time, it doesn't seem like a ludicrously far-fetched thing to get built. There are plenty of manned electric multirotors in development, with more or less the same kinds of capabilities ADIFO promises in low-speed flight. Those things are happening, nobody is in any doubt. The vectored thrusters on the back end are far from new, jet propulsion is more common and reliable than ever, and there's nothing about the tapered body shape that looks impossible or even super difficult to build. ADIFO might need to consider additional ducted fans, or contra-rotating coaxial props, for redundancy, but it certainly doesn't look impossible.
Sabie and Taposu are looking for partners to take ADIFO into the next stages of development. Check the aircraft out in the video below.
Source: ADIFO Aircraft