The Flexrotor tailsitter has made its first hovering test flight. Created by Tad Mc Geer and his team at Aerovel. Veterans of the Scaneagle and Aerosonde programs in Washington State’s Columbia Gorge the company has an illustrious pedigree.
Flexrotor is a tabletop-sized robotic aircraft which offers an unprecedented combination of long range and endurance together with vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL). Exceptional performance is enabled by:
- a “tailsitter” layout roughly comparable to that of experimental VTOL fighters of the 1950s, and likewise somewhat akin to the “helicopter airplane” proposed by Prince (1952);
- a large, geared-down tractor rotor/propellor having low disc loading, offering reasonable propulsive efficiency over a flight envelope stretching from hover to long-range cruise to high-speed dash;
- thrust-borne launch, with fuselage and rotor axis vertical;
- wing-borne cruise, with fuselage and rotor axis horizontal;
- standard aerodynamic surfaces for control in wing-borne flight, and a combination of rotor cyclic and stowable wing-tip thrusters for control in thrust-borne flight.
VTOL is exploited to allow the aircraft to operate autonomously from sites having restricted access, including small boats in rough conditions. Automation encompasses the full ground-handling cycle, from retrieval through to parking, fueling, and launch, which will be possible from an unattended and portable base station. The system is designed for low logistics costs, high flight-hours per man-hour, and wide-ranging operations over oceans and remote areas. Prospective applications include weather and environmental monitoring, geological survey, and land- and ship-based imaging reconnaissance.