Unless you’re anything like the revered sci-fi writer and visionary Arthur C. Clarke, chances are you haven’t got a clue as to what technological advances the future may bring. However, this hasn’t stopped the mere mortals working at UK-based aerospace firm AgustaWestland from trying. Their goal was to gain insights into what advanced rotorcraft of the future may look like. And, judging by the appearance of their technology demonstrator, dubbed “Project Zero”, they may very well have succeeded.
Not satisfied just shuffling concepts around on paper, AgustaWestland’s R&D team managed to design, then build their revolutionary electric-powered tilt rotor craft in less than six months. They then subjected it to numerous secret test flights over the course of 2011 and 2012, before officially unveiling it to the world earlier this year.
Designed to hover like a helicopter and convert to a fixed wing aircraft in forward flight, it features two integrated rotors which can be tilted through more than 90 degrees. Currently, both rotors are driven by advanced electric motors, powered in turn by rechargeable batteries. Fortunately, that’s not the end of the story. Plans are already afoot to develop a hybrid version that incorporates a diesel engine.
When cruising, the wings provide most of the lift, with the blended carbon graphite fuselage and shroud also making a contribution. Elevons (combined elevators and ailerons) provide pitch and roll control during forward flight, while the V-tail provides longitudinal stability. The outer wings can also be detached for missions performed primarily in helicopter mode.
All the aircraft’s control systems (think flight controls, landing gear actuators and the like) are electrically powered, removing the need for hydraulic systems. Its electrical drive system also has another advantage – it does away with the complex and heavy transmission system required by conventional rotorcraft.
Says Daniele Romiti, AgustaWestland’s CEO: “The ‘Project Zero’ technology demonstrator program brings together many of the advanced technologies we have been researching in recent years. We strongly believe in the tilt rotor concept as the future of high speed rotorcraft flight, as it offers much greater speed and range than compound helicopter technology.”
Will a production version of Project Zero ever see the light of day? Who knows? One thing’s for sure though: with designs like this starting to see the light of day, aviation junkies such as myself are in for one exciting ride.
For more information visit www.agustawestland.com