A
gustaWestland stunned the
world on March 4, 2013 when it
announced at Heli-Expo that it
had secretly flown an unconventional
technology demonstrator aircraft, code-
named “Project Zero,” that looks unlike
any aircraft before. The long list of
disruptive innovations demonstrated
and pioneered by Project Zero were just
as stunning as the aircraft itself.
A swashplateless, all-electric-
powered, hybrid tiltrotor/fan-in-wing
“technology incubator,” as
AgustaWestland calls it, Project Zero
“employs no hydraulics, doesn’t burn
fossil fuel and generates zero
emissions.”The fact that Project Zero
made its first flight just six months after
design kick-off is even more impressive.
In the press release, Daniele Romiti,
AgustaWestland’s CEO, said “The ‘Project
Zero’ technology demonstrator program
brings together many of the advanced
technologies AgustaWestland has been
researching in recent years and
demonstrates our strong technological
base from which we will develop new
products to meet the needs of our
customers in the future.We strongly
believe in the tilt rotor concept as the
future of high speed rotorcraft flight as
it offers much greater speed and range
than compound helicopter technology.”
AgustaWestland Vice President for
Research & Technology Dr. James Wang,
provided the first public details in an
exclusive interview with
Vertiflite
.
An Aircraft Like No Other
P
roject Zero was launched to
showcase as many innovations as
possible on a single technology
demonstrator platform. Wang
conceived of the concept and
completed initial sizing in 2010. The
project was approved by
AgustaWestland management and a
small team was put together in
December 2010 to execute the project.
The unmanned demonstrator made its
first tethered flight in June 2011 at
AgustaWestland’s Cascina Costa, Italy
facility. The code name came from the
recognition that this was a unique
internal project like nothing the
company had ever done before: it was
starting fresh from zero.
AgustaWestland’s Advanced
Concepts Group conducted model
testing within those first six months.
Several 1/10th-scale models were flown
to test the flight envelope extremes of
this unusual shape.
The aircraft was flown in secured
areas several times in 2011 and 2012,
including flights with and without the
ducted shrouds around its tilting rotors
and with a second set of more
advanced rotor blades with a non-linear
twist and custom airfoils. Flight testing
also supported fine-tuning the electric
propulsion system to extract 30% more
power.
Project Zero in hover. (All graphics courtesy of AgustaWestland.)
Project Zero
By Mike Hirschberg,
Executive Director
The exclusive story of AgustaWestland’s all-electric “technology incubator.”
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VERTIFLITE May/June 2013
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