Aircraft

BAE Systems wants to grow military aircraft in chemical vats

BAE Systems and the University of Glasgow foresee a time when new aircraft can be designed and chemically grown in a matter of weeks
BAE Systems and the University of Glasgow foresee a time when new aircraft can be designed and chemically grown in a matter of weeks
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BAE Systems and the University of Glasgow foresee a time when new aircraft can be designed and chemically grown in a matter of weeks
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BAE Systems and the University of Glasgow foresee a time when new aircraft can be designed and chemically grown in a matter of weeks

Modern military aircraft are so complex that fighters like the F-35 Lightning II or the Typhoon take 20 years to go from drawing board to deployment at phenomenal costs. With design work already starting on next-generation fighters for the 2040s, BAE Systems and the University of Glasgow are looking at a faster, cheaper way to produce unmanned air vehicles (UAV), where they aren't constructed, but grown in computer-controlled chemical vats in a matter weeks.

This vision of the future of aircraft design and manufacturing was outlined ahead of the upcoming Farnborough International Airshow, which runs from July 11 to 17. The purpose of this concept isn't just to cut cost and the painfully long development cycle of military aviation hardware. It's also a reflection of the growing emphasis on swarms of smaller drone aircraft that can be built to custom specifications for specific missions over manned aircraft.

Such use of bespoke UAVs would require radically shorter development and manufacturing cycles, which inspired BAE's vision of growing them in huge chemical vats to create near-complete airframes and systems.

The key to this is the "Chemputer" – a combination of the computer with chemical manufacturing. Originally developed by Regius Professor Lee Cronin at the University of Glasgow, and Founding Scientific Director at Cronin Group PLC, it's a sort of advanced 3D printer that works on a molecular level. It's original purpose was to use simple, locally-available chemicals to produce pharmaceuticals quickly and cheaply. Now, the technology is being envisaged as a way to produce full-blown aircraft and their electrical systems.

For the BAE concept, the Chemputer would be part of a system to enable the building of UAVs or multi-functional parts for large manned aircraft on a molecular level out of environmentally sustainable materials using advanced chemical processes. The result would be be to allow mission specific drones to be built in a very short timeframe. Developers could choose from a menu of capabilities and the Chemputer would bring together the necessary technologies and grow them.

In this way, fleets of small drones that could be made quickly to carry out a variety of missions. They could drop supplies to special forces, carry out surveillance, or operate at speeds and altitudes that would make them invulnerable to anti-aircraft missiles.

"This is a very exciting time in the development of chemistry," says Cronin. "We have been developing routes to digitize synthetic and materials chemistry and at some point in the future hope to assemble complex objects in a machine from the bottom up, or with minimal human assistance. Creating small aircraft would be very challenging but I'm confident that creative thinking and convergent digital technologies will eventually lead to the digital programming of complex chemical and material systems."

The animation below shows how the warplanes of the future might be created.

Source: BAE Systems

BAE Systems future technologies: growing unmanned air vehicles (UAV's) through chemistry

9 comments
akarp
The most advanced room-temperature self assembly modern marvel that can fabricate the most complex machine yet unknown with truly limitless possibilities...and the best thing we can think of is military air craft???
tapasmonkey
"It's original purpose was to use simple, locally-available chemicals to produce pharmaceuticals quickly and cheaply. Now, the technology is being envisaged as a way to produce full-blown aircraft" ...ploughshares into swords then!
CarolynR
Agreed - a very sad state of affairs if British technology with such potential (and there surely is an element of doubt, and hyperbole) is to be harnessed to building drones designed principally to support military applications.
Erock
Sounds like Skynet.
bobflint
Growing aggressive aircraft, while half the world has no clean drinking water...
Indiver716
Amazing and frightening.
Pres
Cool, just what we need: another faster, more efficient way to destroy the earth and some more of its people!
S Michael
The U.S. and what is left of the EU, had better get their governments in order. Talk to people on the street. They are angry at what they perceive as government now against the everyday person. Elites have different laws then the common folk. People at the high echelon of government are not listening, and risk civil unrest of the highest order. What does this have to do with chemical printers that make airplanes for war. Two things. One. Who are the government going to war against? Two. Are the scientist and workers who make the planes considered elites or little people to be controlled? If they are elites. Then they will be efficient in killing lots of people that do their dirty work. If they are considered underlings, then the technology might leak out and be used against the status quo elites. Either way, the elites are not paying attention; and the second libraries of Constantinople are at risk, or put another way. All technology and scientific advancements are at risk of being torn down and ransacked.
ProfT
That's where the money is, but OF COURSE this science will have many spinoffs.