At this week’s Heli-Expo show in Las Vegas, AgustaWestland introduced an unmanned “technology demonstrator” version of an electric-powered tiltrotor. Far from ready for production, the “Project Zero” aircraft was fabricated and flown in six months by the Italian company’s Advanced Concepts Group.
Though no plans for a manned version were mentioned in the company press release, the demonstrator has what looks like a small cockpit in the forward fuselage. The first flight was flown in secret on a tether in June 2011. The aircraft has since completed untethered hovering flights in a secure area of AgustaWestland’s Cascina Costa facility in Italy.
Like AgustaWestland’s developmental AW609 manned tiltrotor, the Project Zero aircraft has tilting prop-rotors that allow it to take off, land and hover like a helicopter, then rotate to a horizontal position for winged flight at higher speed. Unique to the concept aircraft are removable outer wing panels for missions requiring primarily helicopter mode.
The fully electric motors operate totally independent of each other, eliminating the weight and complication of a common transmission, but leaving open the risk of asymmetric condition should one motor or prop-rotor be compromised. In forward flight, the wings and blended body provide lift, and elevons control pitch and roll. A V-tail provides longitudinal stability.
AgustaWestland said future versions may have diesel engines that would charge the batteries in flight. In addition, the company said that while the aircraft is parked, the rotors can be turned into the wind and use windmill power to recharge the batteries.
AgustaWestland CEO Daniele Romiti said, “We strongly believe in the tiltrotor concept as the future of high-speed rotorcraft flight as it offers much greater speed and range than compound helicopter technology.”