Friday, June 24, 2011

D-Dalus: Radical new flying machine may replace helicopters?

It can take off vertically, hover, rotate on a dime, fly in reverse and thrust down to nail a landing a moving target and, it can do all of this at jet-like speed and without any loud chopping noise.

What’s surprising is that the D-Dalus doesn’t have fixed wings or a standard rotor engine and more closely resembles a lawn mower than an aircraft.

It hovers using an innovative flight technology that may someday allow it supplant helicopters as the ultimate in aerial maneuverability.

Helicopters have long been deployed in a wide range of military and police operations. Yet, for just as long, they’ve been beset with a fair number of drawbacks. The same design principles that allows them to hover also limits their forward flying speed. The loud rotor engines also makes them impractical for reconnaissance missions.

IAT21, the Austrian Innovative Aeronautical Technology research company which developed the D-Dalus, claims their invention is a potential game-changer because it’s designed to rectify all these concerns. It’s ultra-quiet, works swimmingly in harsh weather conditions and requires much less maintenance.

The aircraft can enter buildings through windows and comes equipped with a sense-and-avoid system, which means it can navigate within tight spots and close to walls. Such versatility makes it ideal for search-and-rescue operations or as a surveillance drone.

The aircraft’s differs in that it generates propulsion using four contra-rotating turbines spinning at speeds upwards of 2,200 rpm. But the key to its incredibly nimble maneuvering is the turbines ability to be adjusted to generate thrust at different angles around the three axes.

A series of built-in computer algorithms take the guesswork out of how to reposition the blades so that in-air tricks, like glue-down landings, can be easily executed using a joystick.

Currently, the D-Dalus is marketed as a spy-drone. But the company plans to scale up the technology so that it can handle heavier payloads and so that it can someday be commissioned as a passenger vehicle.

According to the company website: “In trials to date D-DALUS has met the performance criteria placed upon it and appears to be scalable, becoming more efficient and less complex as it increases in size.”

Right now, the biggest version can only lift a payload of 70kg, although IAT21 is now working with the UK's Cranfield University on a larger, more powerful version.

Photo: IAT21

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