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Thursday, August 1, 2013

AgustaWestland Eyes Tiltrotor ‘Twice the Size of an AW609’ as Project Zero Tech Incubator Moves Toward Hybrid Power

By Thierry Dubois

The electric tiltrotor “technology incubator” known as Project Zero is to move from an all-electric to hybrid engine architecture, according to manufacturer AgustaWestland. James Wang, vice president of research and technology, said that a diesel, a derivative from a car engine, is to be installed in the next 12 months.

Dr. James Wang.
The unmanned Project Zero aircraft, first unveiled in March 2013, features two three-blade rotor/propellers shrouded into the wings. “The diesel is ready and we now need to do some integration work,” Wang remarked. Ansaldo Energia, another Finmeccanica company that specializes in powerplants and generators, is designing it. Wang hopes it will give the aircraft much-needed endurance. Various modes will be available. For takeoff, both the engine and the electric motors will provide power simultaneously. In cruise flight, the diesel will act as a generator feeding the batteries so that only the electric motors turn the blades. The hybrid aircraft could be manned but Wang sees no point, as it is not a product.

A group of 20 engineers developed Project Zero in Cascina Costa, Italy. A number of partner companies have provided systems and components. For example, Finmeccanica’s Selex ES is in charge of avionics. Japan-based Uchida has supplied the carbon-fiber blades, shrouds and spinners.

AgustaWestland Project Zero at the
Paris Air Show.
In other tiltrotor news, Wang revealed that an aircraft “twice the size of an AW609” is on the drawing board. Cruise speed would be 300 knots, and it could accommodate 19 passengers or more. It could be in service 10 years from now.
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