Drones

Radical VTOL drone's wings are also its rotor blades

Radical VTOL drone's wings are...
A rendering of the commercial version of the ROTORwing drone, with its gimbal-mounted camera and red cargo compartment
A rendering of the commercial version of the ROTORwing drone, with its gimbal-mounted camera and red cargo compartment
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The commercial version of the ROTORwing should weigh 20 lb (9 kg) and be capable of lifting and carrying payloads of at least 7 lb (3 kg)
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The commercial version of the ROTORwing should weigh 20 lb (9 kg) and be capable of lifting and carrying payloads of at least 7 lb (3 kg)
The ROTORwing should ultimately be able to fly for up to four hours per charge of its battery pack
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The ROTORwing should ultimately be able to fly for up to four hours per charge of its battery pack
A rendering of the commercial version of the ROTORwing drone, with its gimbal-mounted camera and red cargo compartment
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A rendering of the commercial version of the ROTORwing drone, with its gimbal-mounted camera and red cargo compartment
Among other things, the ROTORwing drone could be used for delivery of organs, medication or blood
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Among other things, the ROTORwing drone could be used for delivery of organs, medication or blood
The ROTORwing could also have military applications
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The ROTORwing could also have military applications

VTOL (vertical take-off and landing) drones already have some advantages over multicopters and fixed-wing drones, but could they offer even better functionality? The designers of the ROTORwing seem to think so, as their aircraft's wings actually double as its rotor blades.

Ordinarily, VTOLs have both fixed wings and copter-style horizontal propellers. Those props allow them to take off and land vertically, so they don't require a runway. Once they reach their cruising altitude, the propellers either tilt forward or a vertical rear pusher prop kicks in, taking the drone into faster, more energy-efficient forward flight than would be possible for a conventional multicopter.

The ROTORwing takes a much different approach. Created by US aerospace company DZYNE Technologies, it has a top-mounted set of wings that are able to rotate horizontally as one connected unit, relative to the aircraft's main body. Each wing can in turn flip over relative to the wing unit's central hub, allowing its electric motor/propeller to face backwards relative to that on the other wing.

When the drone is taking off, one of its wings is indeed facing backward. With the two props thus producing thrust in opposite directions, the wing unit proceeds to spin around like the rotor blades of a helicopter, lifting the aircraft off the ground.

The commercial version of the ROTORwing should weigh 20 lb (9 kg) and be capable of lifting and carrying payloads of at least 7 lb (3 kg)
The commercial version of the ROTORwing should weigh 20 lb (9 kg) and be capable of lifting and carrying payloads of at least 7 lb (3 kg)

Once it's time to go into forward-flight mode, the two wings both briefly pivot neutrally upward, and then pivot down so that both props are facing forward – the wing unit is now locked perpendicular to the drone's body. The propellers then pull the ROTORwing forward, with the wings providing lift like those of a fixed-wing airplane. When it's time to land, or just to hover on the spot, the process is simply reversed.

It all seems very clever, but how is it supposedly superior to traditional systems?

According to Shane Skopak, the director of DZYNE's products division, conventional tilt-rotor VTOLs require large, powerful motors and large-diameter propellers in order to attain lift-off. Those motors use up a lot of battery power, while the long props produce extra drag in forward flight. Additionally, the wings tend to be on the short-and-stubby side.

He adds that pusher-prop VTOLs have some of the same drawbacks, plus the four (or more) hard-mounted horizontal motors/props do nothing but add weight and drag in forward flight.

The ROTORwing could also have military applications
The ROTORwing could also have military applications

The ROTORwing, on the other hand, utilizes smaller motors and props that consume less power and create less drag. Additionally, the wide wingspan is better for forward flight, while the one large set of rotor blades produces lift more efficiently than the multiple smaller props on a regular VTOL. This feature reportedly allows the drone to lift heavier payloads, without using more power.

It should also be noted that unlike a helicopter, the ROTORwing doesn't require a large tail rotor. Skopak tells us this is because torque isn't being applied in the center of the rotor blades, as it would be on a helicopter with its one engine that turns them. As a result, the aircraft isn't constantly trying to twist sideways. Two small tail rotors are used, however, to point the fuselage in the desired direction.

DZYNE is reportedly already performing flight tests with a working prototype, and hopes to have an operational version of its production model in the air by October – it could be commercially available early next year. Plans call for that first version to weigh 20 lb (9 kg), be capable of lifting and carrying payloads of at least 7 lb (3 kg), and have the ability to fly for up to four hours per charge of its battery pack. It should be priced similarly to other VTOL drones.

And we have actually seen something sort of similar before. BAE Systems has presented a concept in which the entire drone spins to take off and then flies forward using its wings, while a team from the Singapore University of Technology and Design has actually built a functioning prototype that does so. According to Skopak, however, the patent for the ROTORwing had been filed before either of those were announced.

Source: DZYNE Technologies

9 comments
Username
Only one of the wings needs to flip.
Scottsdale Bob
I tried to understand the different approach but static photos don't convey the concept very well. I looked on the company website for a video that would explain the rotor's unique actions but they did not have one.
Elizane09
During transition from helicopter mode to fixed wing mode. it appears that there would be excessive turbulence and instability issues. The article does not explain how these issues are addressed.
Kurts
So where does the crafts lift come from when the wing transitions after take off... the transition would mean it would drop sharply until lift from the wing kicked in..
Kpar
Pretty cool, but I still think the Cartercopter is a more fully fleshed-out idea.
alan c
First, the wings would have to have symmetrical sections to lift equally as rotors, which means less efficiency when they act as conventional wings. Second, at some stage they have to stop rotating and will not be providing lift during transition. They will also cause huge drag during transition. I can't believe that the company has solved this problem. Perhaps they should reinvent the Fairey Rotodyne.
ljaques
As rendered, it doesn't appear that any of the 4 motors/props is large enough to do either job. Nor does there appear to be enough room for batteries in the fuselage. If they're just releasing the wing from the fuselage (it doesn't appear to split and rotate radially for proper aero) and reversing one motor, using the tail motors to steady the fuselage, they would have to be pretty high for the transition to be safe, as it would take awhile. That looks like a very unstable design and I sure wouldn't put my money behind it. Gotta love the red cross milk and aspirin payload. LOL
Lance
If the wing flipped quickly that could minimize the loss of altitude during transition.
windykites
What about a drone built like an auto-gyro? Only one engine required. Nothing needs to 'flip'. STOL is okay.