Aircraft

AgustaWestland unveils world's first electric tilt rotor aircraft

AgustaWestland unveils world's...
Project Zero is claimed to be the world's first electric tilt rotor aircraft
Project Zero is claimed to be the world's first electric tilt rotor aircraft
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Project Zero is claimed to be the world's first electric tilt rotor aircraft
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Project Zero is claimed to be the world's first electric tilt rotor aircraft
Project Zero’s two rotors can be tilted up to 90 degrees
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Project Zero’s two rotors can be tilted up to 90 degrees
Project Zero was reportedly designed and built over a period of just six months
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Project Zero was reportedly designed and built over a period of just six months
Artist's conception of Project Zero in flight
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Artist's conception of Project Zero in flight

The engineers at aerospace firm AgustaWestland are no slouches when it comes to tilt rotor aircraft, having recently developed the intriguing commercial-use AW609. It seems, however, that they’ve been holding out on us ... over a year and a half ago, they began secretly test-flying what they have now publicly unveiled as being the world’s first electric tilt rotor airplane. It’s known simply as Project Zero.

The technology demonstrator aircraft was reportedly designed and built over a period of just six months. It made its first unmanned tethered flight at the company's Cascina Costa facility in Italy, in June of 2011. It has since been flown several other times in 2011 and 2012, including some untethered flights “inside a secured area.”

As with other tilt rotor aircraft, Project Zero’s two rotors can be tilted up to 90 degrees. This allows it to take off and land vertically and to hover, like a helicopter, while also flying forward with the speed and efficiency of a fixed-wing aircraft. Each of the rotors are driven by their own electric motor, which is powered by rechargeable batteries – technical details are sparse at this time. When parked on the ground, those rotors can be tilted to “windmill” in the oncoming wind, charging the batteries as they do so.

Artist's conception of Project Zero in flight
Artist's conception of Project Zero in flight

Project Zero’s control systems, flight controls and landing gear actuators are also all electrically powered, which means no hydraulic system is required – the plane also doesn’t require a transmission.

The aircraft's entire exterior surface is carbon graphite to maximize strength and minimize weight. The wings provide most of the lift when cruising, with elevons (combined elevators and ailerons) controlling pitch and roll, and the V-tail adding longitudinal stability. For missions that are primarily taking place in “helicopter mode,” however, the outer portion of the wings can be removed for increased maneuverability.

Additionally, because Project Zero’s electric motors don’t require oxygen in order to operate, the aircraft could conceivably fly at very high altitudes or in heavily-polluted air. It should also be difficult to detect, as it makes little noise and has a low thermal signature while in flight.

It’s hard to say when or if we might see a production version of Project Zero, as it was designed as “an insight into what advanced rotorcraft of the future may look like.” AgustaWestland is looking into the possibility of a hybrid version, which would use a diesel engine to power a generator.

Source: AgustaWestland via Wired

21 comments
Slowburn
I noticed that they didn't mention range.
The Skud
You would look very strange taxiing along the freeway to find a recharging station when you misjudge the range left in your batteries and realise you are too far from the airport! Nevertheless, still pretty cool.
PrometheusGoneWild.com
Add a small-efficient gas motor and some Li-On batteries and you have range and simplicity......
Neil Paisnel
It says it recharges while on the ground using the windmiling of the props. Wonder if that mode can be 'engaged' during a glide descent. OK so unlikely to increase range to any worthwhile degree, but could be utilised to provide a 'power assisted' landing by putting a little back in to the batteries after a glide descent if it were to be flown till the pack died. Thinking about it, one would hope this is a built-in automatic function, to provide power to the systems, even with no battery connected or a battery that did die in flight. Guessing they are not using the same battery chemistry as Boeing ?
Rocky Stefano
Range - 5 miles
KMH
If you look reeeeeaaaaalllly closely at the area by the canopy, it says "Batteries not included"...
donwine
Nothing eats energy like vertical flying. Imagine pushing a car by hand. Then imagine how much energy you need if you get under the car and lift it! These blades are small and require high RPM. They are asking a lot from electricity. Sometimes you just have to choose which way to go.
jerryd
Certainly not how I'd do one. Far more easy is a tilt wing and a lot less plane/weight. I doubt that tail from the single pic has much effect below 100mph and even then marginal. They better cross drive as lose an engine and it won't be pretty how fast it would go into a high speed spin. EV helicopters done right with say 2 12' counter rotating fixed rotors and controled by a stick that tilts the rotor forward, etc, is simple, light, easy to fly, stable and wouid have about a 30 minute, 30 mile range or better on todays tech. Versions have been on this blog before as an ultralight I believe. It's the only eff, small VTOL that might actually make production. And talk about a great cummuting vehicle!!
L1ma
A project looking for a microwave beam generator for inflight recharging.
BigGoofyGuy
http://www.hes.sg/ They have fuel cells for aviation. Perhaps it could be used in this one to extend the range? I think it is a neat design.