National Science and Technology Forum (NSTF)

Pegasus Universal Aerospace team

For the design and development of a vertical take-off and landing aircraft.

A local medical doctor has developed a prototype aircraft that could be used for tricky rescue airlifts and emergency air transportation, by combining the best features of a helicopter and a business jet.

This ‘Pegasus’ aircraft looks just like a small jet, but doesn’t need a runway. “It’s the first time that a vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) vehicle can match a business jet when it comes to things like speed, range, and payload, as well as number of passengers,” says Dr Reza Mia, chairman and founder of Pegasus Universal Aerospace (PUA).

He says it will also be safer than either a helicopter or a plane. “A plane is able to stall and possibly fall out of the sky. If that was to happen to Pegasus, the wings would open, the fans would turn on and you’d be in vertical takeoff mode.”

Primarily self-funded, PUA is currently testing quarter-scale models that have a wing-span of four metres. They’ve also just partnered with an automation and robotics company to take things forward.

“The thing that excites us most is what we’ll be doing next with them, which is building a full-scale, manned aeroplane that will do the full job of vertical-takeoff-and-landing transition to forward flight, then transition back to vertical-takeoff mode, and then land like a helicopter,” says Mia.

Mia says his ‘entrepreneurial bootstrapping’ approach is something that could make a big difference in the South African science and technology space, so this project is about much more than an aircraft.

He explains that unlike in the US and Europe, there is little funding available here for ambitious projects that still need to go through technical feasibility studies. His team thus adopted a more unique development approach.

“I think there’s nowhere else in the world that anybody could have really made the progress we’ve made with the little money we’ve used.” Mia attributes their success since 2012 to tapping into knowledge that exists, creating what didn’t exist, and identifying what they didn’t know yet.

“Through that process of uncovering new ideas and new channels, we were able to do things that people in other countries would not have expected us to be able to do.”

Mia hopes that his unusual journey as an inventor will inspire the youth in our country. “You know, I’m a doctor. I’ve studied business but I’ve never studied engineering. So when I wanted to learn about it, I bought books. I went on the internet and I studied the materials and the aerodynamics.”

The Pegasus aircraft concept was recently featured in the futuristic blockbuster The Lost City by Paramount Pictures.

Pegasus Universal Aerospace won the SMME Innovation Award sponsored, including prizes, for a contribution by an individual or a team in an SMME over the last 5 to 10 years. — ScienceLink

Read the special Mail & Guardian supplement about all the NSTF-South32 Award winners.

Subscribe to our eNews

Sign up to receive news on what is happening in science, engineering, technology (SET) and innovation in South Africa

Copyright © 2023 All Rights Reserved | National Science and Technology Forum (NSTF)