New Center For Unmanned Aircraft Systems Propulsion Launched

A new Center for UAS Propulsion (CUP) has been launched with a website-stated mission to “address propulsion-relevant technologies for current and future unmanned aircraft systems.”  It is headquartered at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and led by Mechanical Science and Engineering Professor Tonghun Lee.  The government lead is Chol-Bum “Mike” Kweon, chief of the Propulsion Division at the Vehicle Technologies Directorate at Army Research Lab, Aberdeen Proving Grounds, Aberdeen, Maryland.

“The center will focus on discovery, innovation, and transition of unmanned aircraft system propulsion technologies,” Lee said. “The collective synergy of government, academia, and relevant industry is expected to result in novel technologies that can propel next generation UAVs for our nation.”


Daniel Bodony, Blue Waters associate professor in the Department of Aerospace Engineering, is a charter member of the center and leads research on the impact fluid-structure interactions have on the high-speed rotating components of turbochargers, specifically focusing on identifying and eliminating fluid-structure resonances.


Lee, Bodony, and several students and postdocs have been hired by the Army Research Laboratory to help in establishing the center.


Research at the center will focus on new advances in multi-fuel capable hybrid-electric propulsion systems and other novel propulsion technologies, including:

  • Extreme fuel-ignition characterization
  • Variable energy assisted compression ignition
  • Reliable high-temp coatings/lightweight materials
  • Tribological materials for extreme low viscosity
  • High-pressure compact air management
  • Hybrid electric optimization/integration
  • Power management
  • Electric machines for hybrid power
  • High-power advanced batteries


The main support areas, in addition to the coordination of the center at Illinois, include fuel characterization, development of new energetically enhanced ignition systems, and multi-phase spray characterization at Argonne National Labs Advanced Photon Source.


Efforts by MechSE Professors Sungwoo Nam and Gaurav Bahl are contributing to tangential technologies required in the engine development.


Primarily supported by as part of ARL’s Midwest outpost ARL-Central, the center will also benefit from the participation of several other Department of Defense agencies (AFRL, AFOSR, ONR, and NRL) as well as additional academic institutions and industry. The list includes AMRDEC (ADD, AED), Argonne National Labs, PM UAS, PEO Aviation, GA-ASI, Northrop Grumman, GM, GE-GRC, Convergent Science Inc, UW-Madison, ISU, OSU, Northwestern, UIC, NASA GRC, SNL, ANL, UNSW (Australia), KAIST (S. Korea), ADD (S. Korea), and TAMU. More partners will join in the future as new expertise is added.


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