Finmeccanica Helicopters is continuing testing activities using its Project Zero unmanned technology demonstrator as it works to install a hybrid drive system on the aircraft.
Presently the ducted-fan tiltrotor takes its power from batteries, but that, says James Wang, senior vice-president services and marketing at the manufacturer, has limited its endurance to around 10min.
The addition of a diesel engine, which will both drive the engines and charge the batteries - which can then provide short bursts of extra power while manoeuvring or hovering - should boost that figure to 35-45min.
It has completed bench tests of the motor – a standard automotive engine which it has modified to double the power output while halving its weight, says Wang.
It is now ready to install the motor, with test flights to follow, although Wang declines to specify a timeframe for these to commence.
Project Zero, with its distinctive hybrid wing-body design, will not become a product in its own right, says Wang, but will help mature technologies across the manufacturer’s three product lines: helicopters, tiltrotors and rotary unmanned systems.
An example of this is the active blade control system utilised on Project Zero. This eliminates the requirement for both a swash plate and a separate vibration damping system, he says. Trials of active trailing edge flaps, derived from the programme, will be tested on the AW139 medium twin either in late 2016 or early 2017, he says.
Flight control laws derived from Project Zero are also being used to inform the development of the AgustaWestland next-generation civil tiltrotor (NGCTR), he says.
“We want to be recognised as the name in civil tiltrotor technology in the world,” says Wang. “All the engineers on NGCTR came from Project Zero.”
Other innovations on Project Zero include its all-electric systems, semi-monocoque composite construction and unmanned controls.
The aircraft itself last flew around two years ago, says Wang, with flight tests in the meantime conducted using a one-third scale model. This has been driven by the relatively short endurance currently available, which limits the trials that can be performed.
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