World's largest foam board drone

Engineers at the University of Manchester have designed and flown what they claim is the largest quadcopter drone ever built using lightweight foam board material.

Dubbed the Giant Foamboard Quadcopter (GFQ), the aircraft has a frame spanning over 6 meters (20 ft) and weighs just 24.5 kg (54 lbs). The team constructed it entirely from hollow box structures of 5mm foam boards, seeking an inexpensive and recyclable alternative to materials like carbon fiber.

The drone is lifted by four electric motors powered by a 50V battery pack. An onboard computer system provides autonomous control, allowing it to fly predetermined routes.

Lead engineer Dan Koning explained their motivation: "Foam board is an interesting material to work with. When used right, we can make complex aerospace structures where each part is as strong as needed - no excessive engineering."

The GFQ's first successful flight was on July 5th at the Snowdonia Aerospace Centre in Wales. The Manchester team assembled there with researchers from other British universities to demonstrate their latest innovations.

Footage shows the giant quadcopter gracefully taking off, ascending over 50 meters, and making several circuits above the airfield before landing safely.

Beyond proving the drone's basic flight capabilities, the researchers say the project showcases foam board's potential for large-scale aircraft applications. The material is not only inexpensive and recyclable, but far lighter than metals or composites.

By optimizing the sandwich structure design, they plan to scale up drones for tasks like airborne surveillance, delivery, or even carrying passengers. Larger versions could also serve as eco-friendly aerospace prototypes and structural mockups.

"We intend to refine the GFQ design and add a few meters on to our next drone," Koning said. The team believes giant quadcopters like this could reshape aviation by enabling huge aircraft constructions that are remarkably cheap, lightweight and green.

The University of Manchester has a long history of aerospace innovations, from the first stored-program computer to the graphene that enables modern composites. By resurrecting foam board material in creative ways, they hope to pioneer a new generation of immense yet minimalist aircraft shapes.

The researchers plan to present their ongoing progress at future conferences. But for now, the sight of a flying foam board behemoth - silently cruising over the Welsh countryside - certainly turns heads and reimagines the boundaries of green aviation.ф

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