VTOL X-Plane Development Challenge
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.