AgustaWestland has unveiled the world’s first electric tilt-rotor to demonstrate what the company sees as the future of rotorcraft.
The hitherto secret ‘Project Zero’ made its first unmanned tethered flight in June 2011 at AugstaWestland’s Cascina Costa facility in Italy and has since performed several untethered hover flights inside a ‘secured area,’ the company says.
The electric powered demonstrator is designed to give insight into what future rotorcraft might look like and to develop and test next-generation technologies, AgustaWestland said. Like other tilt-rotor aircraft, most famously the V-22 Osprey, it is designed to hover like a helicopter and fly like a plane.
“The ‘Project Zero’ technology demonstrator program brings together many of the advanced technologies AgustaWestland has been researching in recent years and demonstrates our strong technological base,” company CEO Daniele Romiti said. “We strongly believe in the tilt rotor concept as the future of high speed rotorcraft flight as it offers much greater speed and range than compound helicopter technology.”
Completely electric powered, the ‘Project Zero’ aircraft is built around twin rotors that can be tilted past 90 degrees. During cruise, lift is provided primarily by the wings, with the blended fuselage and shroud also making a contribution. The aircraft also features detachable outer wings for missions that will be performed primarily in helicopter mode.
Elevons provide pitch and roll control in forward flight while the V-tail provides longitudinal stability. AgustaWestland says the aircraft has a very low noise and thermal signature in flight and does not require oxygen, thereby permitting it to fly at altitude or in heavily polluted conditions, such as volcanic eruptions.
The demonstrator’s rotors when on the ground can be tilted forward and the aircraft pointed into wind to allow the rotors to windmill and recharge the aircraft’s electrical storage device.