World's lightest paraglider trike

29 July 2016 | Research
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The Delta's maiden flight in Malaysia earlier this year

Following the phenomenal success of Snowstorm at the prestigious Founders Forum in London last month, the Design-Centric Programme (DCP) at NUS Engineering is taking to the skies yet again with their latest ingenious flying machine. Dubbed The Delta, the world’s lightest electric paraglider trike was unveiled on 26 July at University Town.

The design and prototyping studio FrogWorks — founded by and for NUS students and housed in the DCP — designed and built the aircraft for the National Geographic Channel’s new series Machine Impossible. The show’s producers had approached the DCP with the challenge of building a “flying car” on a shoestring budget and within a tight three-month timeframe. The Delta was featured during an episode of the show on 28 July.

“We had a great learning experience as we went about tackling various aspects of the project, from constructing the physical frame to designing and implementing the aircraft’s electric energy system and pilot safety system. It was an engineering challenge we greatly relished,” said Year 3 NUS Engineering student Chan Wai Yang, one of the eight students who worked on the project.

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From left: Ge Xuyan, Year 2 Engineering; Vincent Sun, Year 3 Engineering; pilot Mr Narint Lohathong; Assoc Prof Henz; Assoc Prof Loh Ai Poh, DCP Director; Goh Kae Yan, Year 3 Engineering; Chen Zhuo, Year 2 Engineering; Wai Yang; Thong Wei Zhong, Year 4 Engineering; Mr Lim Hong Wee, EDIC Instructor; Edmond Gao, Year 2 Engineering; Dai Hai Lang, Year 2 Engineering; Mr Kenneth Neo, EDIC Teaching Assistant; Dr Jegadeesan; and Mr Brian Teo, EDIC Teaching Assistant (seated)

The contraption incorporates a simple yet sturdy design featuring a custom-made chassis with a lightweight aluminium and carbon fibre frame, two back wheels as well as a front wheel connected to the foot-operated steering, a driver’s seat, two rear-mounted 31-inch carbon fibre propellers each driven by an 8kW brushless electric motor and powered by lithium polymer batteries, and an off-the-shelf paraglider which provides lift, like the wing of a conventional airplane.

Weighing just 49kg including its batteries, it is capable of carrying one person of up to 75kg. The aircraft takes off once it gains speed of around 30km per hour and thereafter reaches a cruising speed of 36km per hour under normal wind conditions. The batteries take 45 minutes to fully charge, giving The Delta a flight time of 10 minutes and allowing it to cover a distance of up to 6km.

Safety features include a roll cage and five-point harness to protect the pilot in case of toppling during take-off and landing; fibreglass rods as suspension to cushion the landing; barrier nets between the pilot and propellers; and engine kill-switches in case of an emergency during flight.

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The Delta is the world’s lightest electric paraglider trike

“The challenge in designing and building The Delta was three-fold: we had to find the lightest airfoil possible, a wing, blade or sail crucial for flight, which we found in a conventional cloth paraglider; we had to find the lightest motors to provide enough thrust for The Delta to be airborne; and we had to build it so that it is light enough to fly yet sturdy enough to be safe,” explained Dr Rangarajan Jegadeesan, lecturer at the NUS Engineering Design and Innovation Centre (EDIC) and one of the project supervisors.

The machine took its maiden flight on 19 March at the Sungai Rambai Aerodome in Malacca, Malaysia, and was successful on the first attempt. In time to come, the team hopes its prototype will offer “a safe, clean and simple way to realise our dreams of flying”.

The Delta will be on display at the Science Centre Singapore from 30 July to 16 August as part of the Travel and Discovery exhibit. The exhibit will also showcase previous projects from the FrogWorks studio, which include a modified electric motorcycle, solar-powered yacht, and Snowstorm, Singapore’s first personal flying machine. Project co-supervisor Associate Professor Martin Henz from NUS Computer Science and NUS Engineering will give a presentation on FrogWorks on 2 August at the Centre from 7pm to 9pm.

Catch a repeat telecast of the Machine Impossible episode featuring The Delta on 30 July at 7pm on the National Geographic Channel. 

See press release and media coverage.