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AgustaWestland Project Zero

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.

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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.