In 2017, German pilot Niels Herbrich flew his homemade remote-control plane at 465mph (Mach 0.62). Six years later, his speed record remains unbroken.
The Mach Initiative aims to break this record, by designing an aircraft that will reach speeds exceeding 600 mph (Mach 0.8) at sea level.
In compliance with the requirements of the record, the aircraft must take off, and fly through a 35m high, 400m long timing track in alternate directions before landing, refuelling, and repeating. Thrust must be generated using air-breathing engines, ruling out solid rocket motors.
The project was inspired by Project Boom, a US-based student-run group that ran between 2020 and 2021.
We are a UK-based student-led team, with a keen interest in drone building and aeronautics. As commercial drone technologies get more complex, the line between hobby and professional capabilities is blurring. By pushing the limits of these technologies to achieve new goals, we aim to inspire prospective engineers to do the same.
The team began with aerospace engineering students Dan Sykes and Max Jones conducting a feasibility and scoping study where they developed a proof-of-concept design for a supersonic RC plane. This highlighted several barriers with trying to reach Mach 1, notably the need for high-altitude flight and a custom afterburner to overcome the sharp rise in compressibility drag, along with a custom flight controller to manage control reversal and changes in pressure over the wing. So, the focus moved to breaking a Guinness Speed Record, targeting a top speed of Mach 0.8 at sea level.
It became clear that the scale of the project required a larger team, so the team joined forces with the University of Bath Department of Mechanical Engineering, benefiting from technical advisors, lab space and funding. Most importantly this gave members the ability to work full-time on The Mach Initiative as part of their degrees which saw the team expand to eight such that each member could focus their attention on a single subsystem. By combining empirical methods with computational analysis like CFD and FEA, along with experimental tests using sub-scale prototypes and the wind tunnel, the team reached a design freeze in mid-2023. Manufacturing of the high-speed aircraft has now begun, with a series of ground tests planned for early 2024 as part of a series of master’s projects conducted at Bath. The team is targeting September 2024 for the record attempt.
A sponsorship from leading UK drone producer, Callen-Lenz, gave the team access to funding, technical expertise and support in the logistics planning, which has been invaluable as the design goes from paper to reality. Moreover, Siemens has lent their suite of mechanical analysis software enabling fast and accurate characterisation of the aircraft’s aerodynamic and structural performance.