SAns changing the world we live in. Is Robert Bray the next Elon Musk?

David Gemmell
David Gemmell

The Elon Musk story has been well documented on Biznews. Hes and his ups and downs but at the core of it, hes a South African who is literally changing the way we live in the world. From electric cars to affordable space travel, he really is leaving a mark for the historians to come. But Elon Musk is part of a phenomenal crop of South African talent that have made imprints around the globe. And bestselling author David Gemmell believes the next Elon Musk is already on the map. Gemmell says Robert Bray and the Brayfoil, will disrupt industries like aircraft design, renewable energy and like Musk, the automotive business. – Stuart Lowman

By David Gemmell*

After giving the world the indefatigable and enterprising Elon Musk, South Africa is on the brink of letting loose another wunderkind. It is no mean feat to be recognised globally as a leader in a single industry; but to do it in three is nothing short of miraculous. To have one South African achieving this, as Elon Musk is doing is astounding. However, for two to do so, as Robert Bray is now going to, is simply astonishing and to top it all, he looks as though he will do it in four different types of business.

But let me start at the beginning.

After the wheel, arguably the invention that most transformed the world, is the wing. The reason being, wings produce lift. Once man understood and discovered how to exploit this phenomena, life changed forever.

However, just as we don’t constantly marvel at the wheel, but simply accept its existence as we do gravity; most of us have never had a single thought about wings other than to fervently hope they don’t fall off an aircraft we happen to be travelling on.

Robert Bray
Robert Bray

Most of us, but not Robert Bray.

From childhood, for no reason he can recall, Robert has been fascinated by wings. What made them produce lift? How and where did this force come from? And he wondered, what else could be done with this mysterious effect, (lift) the product of moving an aerofoil (as its shape is called) through air?

To others his musings were just eccentricity. But he persisted. Over time his quest became more and more specific. This was through his discovery early on that the holy grail of aeronautics, the science of how air interacts with objects in motion, was to develop a foil section that could change in thickness and camber by itself. In other words, a wing that could morph into whatever dimensions were required to maximise lift. Robert decided he would develop one.

Of course, many wings have been developed that can alter shape. But only with the aid of complicated mechanical systems; the best example being flaps on an airliner, which are extended to enable the aircraft to either take off or land. They don’t self-morph. Numerous moving parts and complicated mechanics are required. Well, that was until Robert Bray finally developed the Brayfoil.

After fifteen years of countless, fruitless hours and more dead-ends than he cares to remember, Robert has developed a wing capable of changing thickness and camber from both sides of symmetrical, simultaneously.

The Brayfoil is remarkable in its simplicity, is robust and easy to manufacture and maintain.

And just as Elon Musk is recrafting the automotive industry, turning the space race on its head and advancing the world of solar power generation, and in so doing became a household name; Robert Bray is going to disrupt aircraft design, renewable energy and like Musk, but in a different, yet equally substantial way, the automotive business.

The trimaran model used for testing.
The trimaran model used for testing.

Let’s start with flying and the aircraft industry.

Existing wing design relies on the complex deployment of surfaces (e.g. ailerons/flaps) in order to achieve turns or low speed landing capability. The Brayfoil Wing removes the need for these complex, maintenance intensive and expensive components in aircraft, and gives a far greater operating envelope. This in turn results in massive gains in efficiency, safety and the reduction of manufacturing and maintenance costs.

Because the Brayfoil as a single unit can change shape, moving panels are no longer needed for roll control. Differential twist is possible and adverse yaw is eliminated through the reduction of drag whilst still providing greater lift. The Brayfoil therefore does away with the need for tail sections on aircraft; this alone reduces drag by some 30%.

Roberts’ wing comprises a single composite shell structure, which has no open or sliding joints. This allows a plane to fly at a very high velocity with a thin aerofoil section at low lift and low drag; but allows it to fly at very low velocities with a thick aerofoil section so the drag and lift coefficients are high. This feature separates the Brayfoil from any other wing.

A test wing in the wind tunnel.

For all these reasons, the Brayfoil is going to revolutionise design, flight characteristics and cost of both fixed and rotary wing aircraft. So massive is the flying market the potential for the Brayfoil is simply inestimable.

Then there is the automotive industry.

The Brayfoil can act as a downforce wing on vehicles, which will increase friction between tire and road surface by adding downforce, thus enabling them to go quicker without becoming unstable. Of course they already exist, but the Brayfoil’s advantage is it only provides downforce if required; like when cornering. On the straight, it is a thin symmetrical section, which does not impede speed.

And its benefits are not restricted to racing cars. Due to the ability of the Brayfoil to morph both sides equally, it can be used as a vertical aerodynamic cornering aid. A car designed with appropriate ducts through and around the body will be able to accommodate multiple Brayfoil, winglets which create cornering forces acting inwards on a bend. (Imagine a formula one car not having to slow down for corners and you get the picture of how dramatically the Brayfoil will change motoring behaviour).

The deflection of the morphing section of the wing for turbine application.

Again, given the size of the automobile industry, the potential for use of the Brayfoil in the manufacture of cars is immeasurable.

And then there is renewable energy. By using the Brayfoil in turbines, the world of renewable energy is about to be stood on its head. The Brayfoil can be used to generate power using wind and ocean currents and tides, with no related sea creature mortality. If Brayfoils are used on the rooves of tall buildings, they can generate sufficient power to run them. The applications are as numerous as there are currents (air or liquid) in nature. Anywhere lift can be produced by the Brayfoil, it will generate power. Silently and safely.

And lastly it almost goes without saying, the Brayfoil can be used in shipping and sailboats. The radical attributes of the morphing wing will change forever the way yachts are designed. And suffice to say, it can also be used to power cargo and other large vessels.

It would be naive to think no-one else has tried to develop such a wing. There have been many attempts at developing a self-morphing wing. However so far, only the Brayfoil has been able to successfully set its attitude to the wind (angle of attack).


With the Brayfoil, wing-sails in yachts will never need to be set; aircraft will not need to set their angle to the horizontal and turbine wings will adjust to winds or currents instantly.

This is because the Brayfoil follows wind direction automatically and sets the appropriate angle to produce maximum lift at any setting of power (camber).

Computer image of very high speed trimaran. This boat uses the Brayfoil wing as an autonomous wingsail. The pre production prototype is now ready for water trials.
Computer image of very high speed trimaran. This boat uses the Brayfoil wing as an autonomous wingsail. The pre production prototype is now ready for water trials.

When one considers the multitude of applications the Brayfoil can be used in, it is hard to fully comprehend the impact it is going to have on virtually every area of life. Commercially its potential can be described as overwhelming.

And with regard to the obvious question, ‘What proof is there it actually works? The Brayfoil has secured patents world-wide, so has been subject to comprehensive scrutiny. Amongst other tests, the Faculty of Engineering at Stellenbosch conducted rigorous feasibility trials using Robert’s wing as subject of a doctoral dissertation. In every investigation, the Brayfoil has come through with flying colours.

  • David Gemmell wrote the bestseller, Joost: The Man in the Mirror and recently completed Colour Blind Faith, a biography of Father Stan Brennan, the priest who buried Chris Hani. Among other publications he has written for The Star, FM, Business Day, The Weekender, SAWUBONA, Daily Maverick and numerous magazines. In a previous life he was a project manager before quietly morphing into a full-time writer.