Helicopter Technology Flourishes in Limelight

By By Andrew Parker, Editor-in-Chief | May 6, 2014
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Technology is, and always will be, one of the cornerstones of Rotor & Wing’s editorial coverage, and the May issue is dedicated to the subject. It is often said that military technology is 10 years ahead of civil/commercial technology. Around 10 years after the cancellation of the Boeing-Sikorsky RAH-66 Comanche program in 2004, the world is experiencing a period where commercial applications are growing in number and diversity – ranging on the lower end from single-seat experimental designs up to tiltrotors such as the AW609 and Bell V280 Valor or compound aircraft like Boeing-Sikorsky’s offering for U.S. Army Aviation’s Joint Multi-Role (JMR) program, a precursor to Future Vertical Lift (FVL). Then there’s prototypes like Airbus Helicopters (Eurocopter) X3 (X-cubed). Whether military or commercial, some of the most interesting ideas are coming out of both the established manufacturers and the start-up companies that are altering the landscape of helicopter technology. This month leads off with the Sikorsky autonomous research aircraft (SARA) on the cover with accompanying feature from Dale Smith on page 42. Igor Cherepinsky, chief engineer on Sikorsky’s Autonomous Program, said that the manufacturer is trying to “automate a lot of things in current VTOL machines that the human (pilot) now has to do… You can think of it like the old days when you got on an elevator and there was an operator there to run it. It was too complicated for an untrained person to do safely.”

As automation advanced, the operator was no longer needed, he continued. “You just push a button. We are working to bring the same advancement to the pilot/aircraft interface. We’re saying it doesn’t really matter where the human being is – but there needs to be human interface at some level – but that human can either be in the aircraft or at a remote location. It doesn’t really matter.”

Next is a Pilot Report on the AgustaWestland AW609 from Editor-at-Large Ernie Stephens beginning on page 22. Ernie is the first pilot from an aviation trade publication to fly both the AW609 and the Airbus Helicopters X3, according to officials at AgustaWestland. He has also flown the AW109, 119 and 139; nine different Bell Helicopter variants; the Boeing CH-47; Airbus EC120, EC135 and AS350/355/365; Kaman H4-43 and SH-26; MD500 series, MD600 and MD902; all the Robinson types; RotorWay Scorpion; and Sikorsky S-76D and S-92 (to name a few).


Ernie’s observations about the AW609 bear repeating: “Ninety minutes after takeoff, I stepped out of the 609 feeling like I had just sampled a portion of civil aviation’s future. Part helicopter, part airplane, the AW609 tiltrotor is an unusual but fun machine to fly. And if it attains its FAA certification in 2017, as the company hopes it will, you may see a lot of them.”

Andrew Drwiega follows up with Eastern Innovations, the first of a multi-part series covering the Eastern Hemisphere, on page 26. Focusing primarily on Australia and New Zealand in this month’s edition, Rotor & Wing’s International Bureau Chief reports on the KC518 Adventourer, Coax Helicopters and Sydney-based Stop- Rotor Technology’s RotorWing, also mentioning the Marenco Swisshelicopter SKYe SH09.

One of the design objectives of the KC518, Composite Helicopters founder and director Peter Maloney told Rotor & Wing, “has been to develop a helicopter that would be suitable to a low-time private pilot, yet offer the performance and passenger appeal of our peers. At 110 knots and using only 64 percent torque, straight and level, we were hands and feet off all controls and the helicopter remained stable until the rotors passed through a change in air density.”

Then there’s Technology Editor Frank Lombardi’s interview with Jay Carter, CEO of Carter Aviation, which has developed its “slowed rotor/compound technology,” or SR/C (see story starting on page 14). Carter notes: “Our aircraft is really a hybrid between a helicopter, an autogyro, and a fixed-wing airplane. The rotor is driven by the air flowing up through the rotor, like wind through a wind turbine, providing lift at low speed like a helicopter. It can be pre-spun to allow for a jump-takeoff. Our wing is sized for high-speed flight and does most of the lifting as speed increases. We have the ability to slow the rotor down in flight, which greatly reduces its drag and the horsepower required to keep the rotor spinning…”

One thing is clear: the future of rotary wing aviation is as diverse as the day is long. And the lines between helicopter, fixed-wing and hybrid offspring are more blurred than ever.

Related: Technology News


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