VTOL X-Plane Development Challenge

April 22, 2013 by  
Filed under News

As aviation technology continues to develop at breakneck speed, the goal of producing aircraft with vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) capabilities, that can fly as fast as a fixed-wing airplane may soon become a reality. This has been achieved to some degree with the tiltrotor technology of the Bell-Boeing V-22 Osprey, where lift and propulsion are generated by proprotors mounted on engine pods at the ends of a fixed wing. Take off is facilitated by the rotors being angled horizontally as a helicopter rotor works, but as the aircraft gains speed, the rotors tilt forward until they are vertical, allowing the aircraft to reach higher speeds than a conventional helicopter. An Australian company recently announced that it is developing an aircraft which can transition between VTOL and fixed-wing modes with what it calls StopRotor Technology.

The company’s new RotorWing design reportedly aligns the airflow with rotation axis of the rotor while the aircraft is in flight, thereby creating a stable flight profile allowing the smooth transition from one mode of flight to the other. In a statement announcing the new concept, the company noted that the it is a “paradigm shift involving flight well beyond the limitations of conventional fixed and rotary wing flight”, going on to say that it “requires a new way of thinking”.

A patent application has been lodged for the new StopRotor, and the company is currently using flying models and computer simulations to test the concept, which was inspired by the VTOL X-Plane program announced in February by the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). The DARPA VTOL X-Plane project is dedicated to developing VTOL aircraft with greater hover and cruise efficiency, larger payload capacity, and higher speeds than current aircraft – the performance standard being set at greater than 300 knots, which is almost double the speed of the fastest helicopter today. Project leader Ashish Bagai noted that it was hoped that the project would “spark a paradigm shift”. DARPA is putting $150 million into developing the X-Plane which would prove valuable in search and rescue missions, surveillance, transportation of troops and other difficult to reach situations requiring swift response time.

Drone Aerial Refueling Project Progresses

March 15, 2011 by  
Filed under Features

A flight test conducted at an altitude of 45,000 feet, during which a piloted Proteus test aircraft approached to within 40 feet of a NASA Global Hawk drone, was hailed as a success by engineers and is seen as another step closer to the goal of aerial refueling between unmanned aircraft. The approach of the Northrop Grumman Proteus to the Global Hawk tested its performance in the presence of wake turbulence, and although no actual refueling took placing during the flight test, the data gathered regarding flight control responsiveness and engine performance will prove invaluable in preparation for the real thing. Moreover, the two aircraft undertook simulated breakaway maneuvers essential for stealth surveillance tactics.

The Global Hawk, also manufactured by Northrop Grumman, is proving its value in high-altitude, long-endurance (HALE) flight, offering the science community the means to measure, monitor and observe remote locations unattainable previously. The Global Hawk currently boasts an 11,000 nautical mile range and 30-hour endurance. Aerial refueling will extend this capability tremendously, with the initial aim of remaining airborne for a week. As part of the $33 million Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) KQ-X project, the goal is to have successful aerial refueling between two Global Hawk drones by spring 2012.

From a military and defense point of view, having drones with HALE capabilities opens up the opportunities for surveillance beyond current capacity, while reducing the risk factor of piloted flights. From a science standpoint these aircraft make it possible to gather information relating to Earth System Science, defined as the study of global environmental changes involving interactions between land, water, atmosphere, ice, biosphere, societies, economies and technologies.

The Global Hawk is 44 foot long, with a wingspan of over 116 feet and a height of 15 feet. Powered by a single Rolls Royce AE3007H turbofan engine, its gross takeoff weight is 25,600 pounds including 2,000 pound payload capability. Northrop Grumman is working in conjunction with NASA Dryden and is responsible for the design and modification of the Global Hawk Aircraft. Other unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) being developed at this time include the Phantom Eye by Boeing and Northrop Grumman’s X-47B and Fire-X.

Nano Humming Bird Takes Flight

February 22, 2011 by  
Filed under News

Bird watching enthusiasts could soon be very confused and even think they have spotted a new species of hummingbird. Unfortunately for the bird lovers, there is a good chance that it might only be the Nano Hummingbird that has been developed, tested and announced to be in full working order. The Nano Hummingbird is a remarkable achievement in the aviation industry and could be a vital tool for the government to use. It is also quite astounding how so much technology can be fitted into a vehicle that is a mere 6.5 inches.

The Nano Hummingbird has been AeroVironment’s project since 2006, working on the new device for the Pentagon’s research department, DARPA. The release of the completed Nano Hummingbird was a landmark moment, as the craft, which looks exactly like a hummingbird and is a mere two thirds of an ounce (19 grams) in weight, maneuvered by remote control through doorways and executed perfect hovering and forward flight with its two flapping wings used for propulsion. A sixteen centimeter wingspan also allows the craft to look almost exactly like its living counterpart. The Nano Hummingbird is also able to reach speeds of eleven miles per hour, which is the average flight speed of a living hummingbird.

At the start of the project hundreds of different wing designs were considered for the drone after eventually settling on the current wing design. Vast improvements have also come in time, with its first test flight almost two years ago, only allowing the drone to remain in the air for twenty seconds, which has now increased to eleven minutes. And there is also one more specification to the Nano Hummingbird, which is that it has a built-in camera and can be used for surveillance or even spying missions.

Steven Gitlin, Vice President of AeroVironment, commented that the future of the Nano Hummingbird is uncertain. They have delivered the product that was commissioned, and if any further work or upgrades are to be done, it is the decision of the Defense Department. Defense expert, Peter Singer, commented on the new technology saying: “You can use these things anywhere, put them anyplace, and the target will never even know they’re being watched.” A statement that is very true when it comes to the Nano Hummingbird and its close resemblance to nature’s own hummingbird.