VTOL (vertical take off and landing) fixed wing aircraft have been a significant goal of the aviation industry for decades. They offer the ability to operate in many environments like helicopters, but with significantly greater range and speed. This is possible due to their use of wings to create lift so that thrust can be used for forward motion rather than overcoming the weight of the craft.
The first VTOL fixed wing aircraft were developed in the 50’s, but were unstable and sacrificed much of the advantages of fixed-wing flight for VTOL capabilities. The most famous VTOL fixed wing aircraft are the Harrier, V22 Osprey, and F35 Lightning II, showing their restriction to mainly defense applications. Today, a number of companies are developing VTOL aircraft for VIP transport and industrial applications such as servicing offshore oil wells. Additionally, the military is looking to VTOL technology for drones as well as the replacement for the UH-60 Blackhawk. VTOL aircraft are preferred in each of these situations due to their combination of range, speed, and ability to operate from helipads or even unprepared open spaces. In the future, VTOL aircraft could realize the concept of a “flying car” by transporting passengers at high speed without the need for airports.
One main approach to VTOL fixed wing flight is the Tiltrotor. To allow vertical take off and landing, tiltrotors change the orientation of a motor-driven propeller, with only the engine (sometimes only the propeller) pivoting. The YUAA Tiltrotor team led by Jonathan Li ’20 will design and build a VTOL tiltrotor during the 2017-2018 academic year. This tiltrotor will be able to transition from vertical take off to stable fixed wing flight and transition back to vertical mode for landing. Beyond demonstration of a working tiltrotor/wing, team members will plan a practical mission for the tiltrotor and determine what payload they want the tiltrotor to carry.
This project is valuable to YUAA and Yale as a whole because it will enable participating members to learn about aircraft design, mechatronics, software development, and aerodynamics, while also gaining experience working on a challenging engineering problem. In the past, YUAA has constructed a VTOL quadcopter as well as a high endurance fixed-wing aircraft. Combining the two approaches in a tiltrotor is a logical next step. Additionally, tiltrotor technology is currently in high demand in a variety of sectors such as firefighting, search and rescue, and military applications.