Cascina Costa, Italy
Project Zero was an all-electric-powered, hybrid tilt-rotor/fan-in-wing technology incubator created by AgustaWestland. It shocked the world in 2013 when it was announced that it had been flying for years before. The Vertical Flight Society published the exclusive story on the aircraft in the May/June 2013 issue of Vertiflite.
The aircraft was flown in secured areas several times in 2011 and 2012 at AgustaWestland's Cascina Costa facilities, 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. The first untethered unmanned flight took place on May 1, 2011.
The full-size demonstrator’s rotors are driven by advanced electric motors powered by rechargeable batteries. (The Project Zero testbed was also slated to test future hybrid solutions, such as a diesel engine to drive a generator.) The aircraft’s flight control systems, nacelle tilting mechanism, and landing gear all use electromechanical actuators (EMAs), eliminating any hydraulics onboard.
The all-electric approach eliminates the complex and heavy transmission system required by conventional rotorcraft, and has very low acoustic and thermal signatures in flight.
During cruise, the wings provide most of the lift, with the blended fuselage and shrouds around the rotors also making contributions. Elevons provide pitch and roll control in forward flight, while the winglets and short V-tail provide lateral/directional stability. The aircraft is designed with detachable outer wings for short-range missions that would be performed primarily in helicopter mode.
The motors also do not require oxygen, which would permit the aircraft to fly at extremely high altitudes or in heavily polluted conditions, such as volcanic eruptions or other toxic environments. The demonstrator’s batteries can be recharged on the ground by tilting the rotors into the wind to act as turbines.
The aircraft incorporated more than 80% composites, including 100% of the skins, rotor blades, shroud and spokes. The structure is nearly all aluminum and carbon – very little steel was used. Rotor grips are titanium.
The entire development of Project Zero was extremely secretive, and few specifications were released. Years later, these dimensions were determined.
- Length: 8.8 m
- Width: 12 m
- Heigh: 1.4 m
- Thickness: 0.9 m
- Rotor diameter: 3 m
- Unmanned-only aircraft. (The cockpit does not have space for a pilot.)
- Website: Leonardo S.p.A.
- Vertiflite Article: Project Zero, Vertiflite, May/June 2013
- Video: Project Zero Flying - AgustaWestland, Yuyu Chen lifestyle, December 25, 2013
- Article: Project Zero electric helicopter by AgustaWestland on show at Singapore Airshow, CNBC, February 15, 2016
- Vertiflite Article: Turning Volts to VTOL, Vertiflite, January/February 2018
- Vertiflite Article: Leadership Profile: Dr. James Wang, Vertiflite, March/April 2018