This may be a flying saucer, but don’t call it a UFO. Carefully named, the All DIrections Flying Object, or ADIFO, is instead a saucer-like contraption, a flying prototype built at exploring the aerodynamic potential of an alien craft. It is, at its core, an omnidirectional flying wing built around a quadcopter with jets attached. Its designers see a future for the airframe as an unmanned combat aerial vehicle.
In a video posted July 1, a narrator discusses the design process and aerodynamics of the craft. Like many VTOL tools built on a quadcopter frame, ducted fans provide initial lift and mobility at low altitudes and low speeds. The addition of vectored jets on the rear of the craft, combined with four vertical vents and four side-facing vents, promising greater maneuverability at high speeds.
The ADIFO is the invention of Romanian engineer Razan Sabie in conjunction with Iosif Taposu, a scientist with a long career in aerospace research for the Romanian government.
“The aerodynamics behind this aircraft is the result of more than two decades of work and is very well reasoned in hundreds of pages and confirmed by computer simulations and wind tunnel tests,” Sabie told Vice, in the pair’s first American interview. That story explores both the specific nature of the ADIFO, and the long and mostly failed history of flying saucer design.
Like many other ideas for the first decades of aviation, the possibility of operating the craft without a human on board opens up greater potential in what an airframe can actually do. Human pilots are subject to the limitations of a body and perception, and a flying disk changing directions suddenly at high speed is not the ideal place for a human to be.
Uncrewed craft can take on novel forms, and execute turns and twists beyond those human limits. While maneuverability is likely the primary selling point for a future role as combat aircraft, the smooth and fin-free form could easily have stealth characteristics built in, and could be further adapted by a dedicated team to fully realizing that stealth flight.
What might a military planner or designer do with such a machine? The proof-of-concept offers little in the way of information about storage space or sensors. With wide enough lenses, a handful of cameras could match the circular symmetry of the vehicle and provide and omnidirectional surveillance presence. The high speeds and potentially low radar profile suggest a role akin to earlier, Cold War spy planes, taking specific pictures in contested space and returning before anti-air systems can act.
And as with any aircraft, the potential is likely there for it to release an explosive payload, taking the flying saucer from an extraterrestrial fear to a terrestrial threat.
ADIFO might not be the future of anything. The project’s home page says the team is still attracting partners, and aviation history is littered with proofs-of-concept that failed to materialize in a meaningful way.
Yet there is something to the idea of a flying saucer working the moment it no longer has to transport a human. It is an old aviation frontier that likely warrants further exploration.
Watch the ADIFO video below:
Kelsey Atherton blogs about military technology for C4ISRNET, Fifth Domain, Defense News, and Military Times. He previously wrote for Popular Science, and also created, solicited, and edited content for a group blog on political science fiction and international security.