On Monday, Italian helicopter maker AgustaWestland revealed that it has been secretly flying an all-electric vertical takeoff and landing demonstration aircraft powered by twin-electric, direct-drive tiltrotors. The “Project Zero” tiltrotor was designed and built in six months by the company’s advanced concepts group and has been flying since 2011.
The aircraft features elevons for pitch and roll control and in forward flight, a V-tail for longitudinal stability. The lifting body design features two integrated tiltrotors than can be tilted through 90 degrees. The rotors are driven by advanced electric motors powered by rechargeable batteries. There are no hydraulics--all aircraft systems are electrically-powered. On the ground, the batteries can be recharged by pointing the aircraft into the wind and allowing the rotors to windmill.
AgustaWestland also is investigating a diesel-electric hybrid. The aircraft’s wings can be detached for missions performed exclusively in helicopter mode. Project Zero is entirely funded by AgustaWestland as part of its ongoing research and development.