Van Buren Township-based Ricardo Inc., the United States subsidiary of England’s Ricardo plc, said Wednesday that its new Wolverine3 heavy fuel engine has completed its first in-flight tests at the National Nuclear Security Administration’s Nevada National Security Site. 

The Ricardo Wolverine3 is a 3.1-horsepower, two-cylinder, two-stroke, air-cooled engine with spark ignition, direct fuel injection and 500 watts of on-board power. It is designed to power lightweight, tactical unmanned aerial vehicles.

For its first flight, the Wolverine3 was integrated into a Nightwind 2 aircraft, built by Unmanned Aerial Systems Inc. of Las Vegas, Nev..  The Nightwind is a blended wing aircraft with 100 percent composite construction and a two-meter (6.2-foot) wingspan. 

“Tactical UAVs are ideal for surveillance and intelligence-gathering missions and the Ricardo Wolverine3 has the potential to transform the role of UAVs on the battlefield by solving the logistical, safety and reliability issues created by today’s gasoline-powered engines,” said Kent Niederhofer, president of Ricardo Inc. “The Ricardo Wolverine3 is purpose-built for lightweight tactical UAVs like the UAS Nightwind family but the technology is readily applicable to auxiliary power units and automated ground vehicles, as well as civilian markets like border security and firefighting.” 

Stephen Cakebread, Ricardo project director, unmanned systems, and architect of the Wolverine3, said the development team brought the engine from concept to an operational, production-representative prototype status in six months, and from dynamometer first fire to first flight in less than five months.

In that time, Ricardo has applied its full suite of advanced design, modeling, simulation and manufacturing tools. Testing leading up to the first flight included cooling duct optimization, airframe to engine electrical interface, electromagnetic interference compliance, engine mount design, lubrication system development, propeller drive, calibration refinement and fuel delivery system development.

“The Wolverine3 design is optimized for performance, low weight, package efficiency and durability and can be integrated into a wide range of UAV designs,” Cakebread said. “We’ll take everything we have learned and apply it to further enhance the Wolverine3 capabilities, and we look forward to expanding the Wolverine family with a range of engines for new and different missions.” 

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