Weird Spinning Helo Turns Heads

Think you've seen everything? Think again. The people behind this gyro-balanced whirling dervish of a craft hope it's the future of flight.

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||| |---|---| | | | The most unusual introduction at the NBAA gathering in New Orleans, maybe at any NBAA gathering, was made by AeroCopter. The Andover, Massachusetts, company announced the Humming, a unique aircraft that combines jet engines and helicopter aerodynamics to create a new kind of tiltrotor aircraft. A relatively traditionally configured delta-wing fuselage is encircled by one large tiltrotor (made of two concentric rings separated by eight blades) to which four jet engines are mounted on the outside of the outer ring. During vertical takeoff, the spinning tiltrotor is parallel to the fuselage but once sufficient altitude is reached the rotor is tilted so it is perpendicular to the fuselage to provide the thrust for forward flight.

According to its developers, the Humming can be scaled to carry from 20 to 120 passengers and will be able to operate at speeds up to 350 knots with a range of 1,400 nm. Among other advantages cited for the Humming, compared to conventional tiltrotor aircraft, is the use of a single rotor, eliminating the complexity of synchronizing two tilting rotors.

So far a computer flight simulation has been used to develop the concept, and a scale model has been created. Now the real work begins. The company lists its next tasks as securing an initial $7 million in funding, hiring 21 employees, continuing work on the design, expanding its partnerships with three universities-WVU, MIT and the University of Massachusetts-for completion of research projects, and outsourcing the manufacturing and FAA certification of the Humming.

The company's founders and technical advisory board have impressive credentials, but it's a long way from paper to production. Tilting against windmills has never been easy.