By By Thierry Dubois, on Twitter: @aerodub | June 20, 2013
At the Paris Air Show, AgustaWestland announced that its electric tiltrotor “technology incubator,” called Project Zero, is to move from an all-electric to hybrid engine architecture. James Wang, vice president of research and technology, said that a diesel, a derivative from a car engine, is to be installed in the next 12 months.
The unmanned Project Zero aircraft, first unveiled in March 2013, features two three-blade rotor/propellers shrouded into the wings.
Photos by Andrew Drwiega, International Bureau Chief
“The diesel is ready and we now need to do some integration work,” Wang remarked. Ansaldo Energia, another Finmeccanica company that specializes in powerplants and generators, is designing it. Wang hopes it will give the aircraft much-needed endurance. Various modes will be available. For takeoff, both the engine and the electric motors will provide power simultaneously. In cruise flight, the diesel will act as a generator feeding the batteries so that only the electric motors turn the blades. The hybrid aircraft could be manned but Wang sees no point, as it is not a product.
In its current state, Project Zero can only fly for a few minutes. “We are at the mercy of the battery technology,” Wang said. Despite the use of state-of-the-art lithium-ion batteries, at 160 Wh/kg, the full-size aircraft (43 feet of wing span) has not even been able to transition. The few tests performed so far were limited to hover. Scaled models, at one-third and one-tenth, do have transitioned to forward flight, Wang noted.
A group of 20 engineers developed Project Zero in Cascina Costa, Italy. A number of partner companies have provided systems and components. For example, Finmeccanica’s Selex ES is in charge of avionics. Japan-based Uchida has supplied the carbon-fiber blades, shrouds and spinners.
AgustaWestland vice president of research and technology James Wang at the Paris Air Show.
Some technologies could infuse into AgustaWestland’s range of helicopters. One could be individual blade control by electromechanical actuators. Another one, discovered almost by accident, is quick-reaction fuses.
In other tiltrotor news, Wang revealed that an aircraft “twice the size of an AW609” is on the drawing board. Cruise speed would be 300 knots, and it could accommodate 19 passengers or more. It could be in service in 10 years from now.