Austrian research firm IAT21 has unveiled a radically new type of aircraft that could render the helicopter obsolete.
D-Dalus can ‘approach as gently and silently as a hot air balloon’, say its developers, hover, rotate in any direction and fly as fast as a jet.
Unlike VTOL aircraft or helicopters, it can easily cope with poor weather or the lurching deck of a ship.
The propulsion system consists essentially of four sets of contra-rotating disks, each driven at 2,200 rpm by a conventional aero-engine. The disks are surrounded by blades whose angle of attack can be altered using servos, allowing thrust in any direction.
This allows it to launch vertically, hover in a fixed position in the air and travel or rotate in any direction. It can even ‘glue’ itself to the deck of a ship by thrusting upwards.
Apparently, it’s easier to fly than a helicopter, with a simple joystick control, and can be repaired by your average car mechanic. because there are no external moving parts such as rotor blades, it has 360 degree vision. A sense-and avoid system means it can fly through small spaces or hover right next to a rock face or wall.
Initially, the designers say they expect the propulsion system to be used for robot drones in search and rescue missions and the like.
But, they add, in trials it looks as if larger versions are actually more efficient and less complex, meaning there’s no reason why it couldn’t be used in passenger aircraft.
They also envisage it being used as a hovering platform to load and unload ships.
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.