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Thursday, May 8, 2014

Eastern Innovations: Rotary Down Under   

First in a continuing series to examine innovations in the Eastern Hemisphere. This month’s edition focuses primarily on advancements in Australia and New Zealand.

By Andrew Drwiega, International Bureau Chief/Consultant

Several rotary innovations have been in development for a number of years in New Zealand and Australia. What unites them, as with any organization large or small searching to improve on that which already exists, is the constant and insatiable need for funding. But with that as a constant moderator of the rate of progress possible, take the influence of new composite materials together with the growing potential for unmanned systems, add a dash of the old pioneering spirit and the result is a rash of exciting initiatives which could all help to move the rotorcraft market forward.

Kiwi Copter Harbors Great Ambitions

Despite an emergency autorotation and ditching of its KC518 Adventourer into Auckland Harbor New Zealand in May last year, an incident caused by a deterioration of the aft isolation dampers, founder and director of Composite Helicopters Peter Maloney told Rotor & Wing that aircraft No. 3 is now in the test phase while aircraft No. 4 is currently being assembled.

The KC518 took five years to design but then only two years to transition into a helicopter capable of its first flight in late 2011. At the time of the ditching the company had completed over 200 flight hours in the testing program.

Peter Maloney points out that at the time of the ditching “our proof of concept prototype (s/n 001) was feeling very comfortable and proving easy to fly. One of our design objectives has been to develop a helicopter that would be suitable to low-time private pilot, yet offer the performance and passenger appeal of our peers. At 110 knots and using only 64 percent torque, straight and level, we were hands and feet off all controls and the helicopter remained stable until the rotors passed through a change in air density.”

When asked the typical question about cruise speed, Maloney answers: “If we consider that 64 percent torque (+/- 205 shp) provided S/L at 110 knots and maximum continuous power is 284 shp, so at 110 knots we still have +/- 79 shp up our sleeve. Our flight testing program is conducted ‘one step at a time’ and we have not yet expanded the flight envelope fully.”

Originally started by husband and wife team Peter and Leanne Maloney (director and chief financial officer), the Auckland-based Composite Helicopters is wholly owned by them and other shareholders from New Zealand.

The team has been strengthened by the addition of Norbert Idelon from France’s test pilot school (EPNER) and Colin Palmer, a composites expert formerly with Americas Cup Team New Zealand. Norbert will take over test pilot duties allowing Maloney to focus on the engineering aspects of flight testing.

Said Maloney: “Colin Palmer will lead our very experienced composites team. The addition of these very experienced and qualified people provides industry with a clear indication of our intended development direction.”

The ambition is that the company will progress steadily from offering the first helicopters in kit form, building toward the establishment of a helicopter production line with more complex aircraft. However by starting out with a helicopter in kit form, Peter Maloney said that it will appeal to experimental amateur builders of private aircraft, allowing the company to generate more revenue. This will lead future sales into the light corporate market and eventually the general commercial sector. Said Peter: “It will be an ‘easy to build’ helicopter with technological support provided direct by the company’s engineering staff.”

The kit will come with 20 major components including airframe, cabin floor, internal beams and bulkheads. There are around 22 secondary components that comprise carbon fiber doors and bulk hatches. It has been designed specifically to meet FAA Part 27 (aircraft under 7,000 lb and with less than nine passengers – the KC518 will accommodate 5 to 6 people).

According to the company there are numerous benefits to this type of kit helicopter: the manufacturing process is quick and the assembly is straightforward and sequential. The airframe itself is light, the holding fixtures are easily set up within the fuselage and there are no bolted joints. The basic price for the initial kit is $335,000 although a fully completed helicopter will come to just under $400,000. Leanne Maloney claims that the company has designed the world’s first all-composite, single turbine helicopter. “It is a rapid build carbon/kevlar hybrid helicopter,” she says. The main and tail rotor blades are carbon fiber; the same carbon fiber as in high tech sports boats (hence Palmer) and new commercial jets, and are not subject to corrosion. It is designed to be a lightweight, high speed airframe with a robust transmission.”

Due to its design and the materials used, the company claims that the time between overhauls will be nearly twice that of other helicopters, resulting in appreciably lower direct operating costs for owners.

This year the third and fourth aircraft incorporate further refinements focusing on the basic fundamentals of weight, strength and the cosmetic look of the aircraft. “We are currently awaiting the new composite main rotor blades [MRBs],” said Maloney.

The prototype KC 001 was fitted with aluminum MRBs using an 8-inch chord. “We did this to reduce our ‘build to flight’ time to a minimum,” he said. “Our new MRB’s are carbon-fiber with a 9.5-inch chord and designed to be ‘on condition.’ KC flew very nicely with the aluminum main rotor blades, however the design has always included the on-condition carbon fiber main rotor blades. Ray Prouty, a recognized helicopter main rotor expert, recommended the choice of airfoil used for the MRBs. Along with the development of the new carbon-fiber MRBs, we are expecting a significant increase in performance. While this is not necessary for the entry-level KC helicopter, it is an important design factor with future higher-powered derivatives. These new carbon-fiber MRB’s are designed for a gross weight of 4000lbs and MCP of 450 shp.”

From the basic design of the original KC518, the plan moving forward will be to evolve new helicopters with an increased seating capacity and greater performance. However, the immediate need is to obtain FAA certification, which should take a further three years to complete.

Director Tim Pike made a prediction that “we will do with Composite Helicopter what the PC did for the computing industry.”

The second KC518 airframe was built with the express purpose of being used as an exhibit at airshows and aviation gatherings around the world and, according to Leanne, was positively received. Proof that a new project can get off the ground, although on a different scale, was demonstrated recently by Swiss-company Marenco Swisshelicopter when it revealed its SKYe SH09 at the end of 2013, then showed it at this year’s Heli-Expo in Los Angeles. So contrary to general belief, a new breed of innovators do exist who are seeing opportunities within the world’s rotorcraft markets from a different perspective to that of the world renowned OEMs.

As for confidence in the progress being made on his “Kay Cee,” Maloney says that he looks forward “to every flight like a kid with a new toy.” That’s the pioneer spirit.

Australian Manned/Unmanned Pioneers Look to Agriculture Not ISR

Hybrid RotorWing from StopRotor Technology. Photo courtesy of StopRotor
Australian 2007 start-up company CoaX Helicopters Limited, based in Warnervale, NSW, is focused on developing a range of small coaxial rotor systems that can be either piloted or unmanned. CoaX is designing the rotorcraft with technology that is already available, which it intends to manufacture and sell to the home and international markets. The manned option they will initially be available as a single seat version with later development toward two and four seat configurations. Power options will range from turbine, twin diesel to potentially electric motors.

In a discussion with Rob Rich, secretary of the Australian Helicopter Industry Association (AHIA), Peter Batten, managing director, CoaX Helicopters said that the development program was ongoing and therefore pricing had not been established. “Our final technological challenge is to fit the Hirth engine. We anticipate this will take around 12 months before we are ready for our first release, the 17-foot Naked Sports Experimental Class helicopter,” he said, adding that further investment would be advantageous.

Company statements claim that the coaxial design with the lack of a tail rotor “makes these craft more stable, more maneuverable, quieter, safer and provides a better power to weight ratio.” They also claim lower running costs. CoaX Helicopters intends to provide an after-sales service together with financing and leasing options.

Speaking at the Heli Pacific conference in 2012, Batten said that it had been necessary to rewrite the initial strategic plan and that the company would focus on civil applications rather than military due in particular to the current potential for “on-off” military budgets which would significantly impact any development plan.

This involved the optimization of the aerodynamics and power plants in particular. He said that the reliability target was 2,000 hours mean time between overhauls (TBO), although the blades would be less.

Batten’s belief is that agriculture employing unmanned systems, particularly in large countries such as China, would welcome such a light unmanned aircraft that could perform routine yet precision tasks within an area. He observes that while most military unmanned aerial systems (UAS) are currently devoted to intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR), his platform would be out there “doing the job” carrying weight for agricultural applications such as spraying, seed laying and other industry sector uses that could also include a variety of monitoring tasks.

CoaX Helicopters sees the potential of several variants of its flying prototype, from a manned platform with a payload of around 100 kg to a larger UAS carrying in excess of 300 kg with several hours of flight time.

The autopilot would be provided by Australian company Cyber Technologies and Batten add that the Defense Science and Technology Organization (DSTO) found that the system was “unparalleled in its accuracy.” It is already Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) compliant.

Hybrid Heli-Plane or Aero-Copter?

CoaX aircraft in flight.
Photo courtesy of CoaX Helicopters
When is a plane not a plane? When it’s a helicopter. When is it neither? When it’s a RotorWing. That is the name of the concept designed by Sydney based StopRotor Technology. Covered before in Rotor & Wing, the company is developing a prototype aircraft that can transition between fixed and rotary wing flight. It uses existing technology with common fail-safe operations.

As a transition in forward flight was found to be difficult due to airflow being experienced over the rotor blades, but can be accomplished if the aircraft is in a high angle of attack. Stopping and starting the rotor blades needs a stable environment with symmetrical airflow acting on the rotor.

A series of successful flights have demonstrated not only regular fixed and rotary wing flights including takeoff and landing, but also fixed and rotary flight in transition and fixed to rotary wing in-flight conversion.

The first flight test that incorporated an in-flight transition between the fixed and rotary dimensions took place last year with a two-meter-long prototype. The transition is achieved by unlocking the RotorWing during a descent so that it could enter helicopter mode. Rowan Watkins, company founder declared the inflight transition to be a “key milestone in our development.” However, further investment is sought. StopRotor Technology’s ambition is to continue to develop this hybrid technology and demonstrate its safe conversion between fixed and rotary wing operation while in-flight. Objectives include: “demonstrating entry into and exit from the transition envelope, demonstrating sustained stable flight at high angles of attack in the transition envelope, demonstrating the stopped rotor transition between flight modes, and demonstrating stopped RotorWing enabling technologies”

Further developments will include looking into alternative sources of power and a modern computer management system.

Missions will include those where the versatility of a VTOL aircraft can be mixed with the need for fixed wing range and the ability to hover. Users will look to see how it might perform with mission systems such as ISR pods, among others.

Related: Airframe News 

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