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AgustaWestland Project Zero is a project from the helicopter manufacturer’s Advanced Concepts Group exploring a tilt-rotor drone configuration.
After a 6 month development involving several virtual and real-world models exploring different aspects of the design and its control, the full scale prototype flew privately in the company’s testing grounds in 2011 and 2012.
The project explores cutting edge ideas such as:
- advanced rotor blades with a non-linear twist
- custom airfoils (the aircraft generated a lot of its lift from its wings and lifting body fuselage)
- fine-tuning of electric propulsion system to extract 30% more power
- battery recharging on the ground by tilting the rotors into the wind to act as turbines
- fully electric aircraft, with no hydraulics and all systems driven by electric motors
- detachable wings depending on the flight profile
This video shows one of Project Zero’s early flights.
In addition to AgustaWestland staff, companies contributing to the project include:
- Ansaldo Breda with a custom-built electric motor inverter and accompanying motor control algorithm
- Selex ES with the High-Integrity Flight Control Computer and the Actuator Control Unit.
- Lucchi R Elettromeccanica custom-built the axial flux permanent magnetic synchronous motors
- Rotor Systems Research LLC worked in conjunction with AgustaWestland on the aerodynamic design of the blades
- Lola Composites produced the composite CFRP exterior surfaces
- UCHIDA manufactured the composite structures of the rotor blades, shrouds, and spokes
- Stile Bertone worked on the aerodynamics
- Ansaldo Energia
Project Zero has continued to explore the concept in various models, although the full scale model isn’t though to have flown after 2012. Unsurprisingly for such a radical design, the project has generated several patents, and contributed its technologies to other AgustaWestland projects such as the AW609 tilt-rotor.