New Aircraft Concept Promises More Speed, Endurance

By Eric Beidel
An engineer has designed a vertical take-off and landing aircraft that may be able to fly faster and farther than today’s helicopters.

Atlanta-based Richard Oliver recently unveiled his concept for the Hexplane, a six-engine VTOL that he says will be able to fly above 25,000 feet at cruise speeds greater than 425 mph for stretches longer than 2,000 miles. This would bring its performance closer to that of a fixed-wing aircraft, something that helicopter manufacturers also have been working on.

Bell Helicopter’s V-22 Osprey, which also features a tilt-rotor design, already has seen action in Iraq and Afghanistan. Sikorsky’s S-97 Raider scout and attack helicopter will be based on a prototype that has flown with coaxial rotors. But neither tops cruise speeds of 300 mph.

The Hexplane would feature three wings and six propulsion units. The aircraft would be able to continue performing vertical operations even if a propeller, engine or gearbox fails. Through a simulation, Oliver determined that the Hexplane could still fly without a propulsion unit and with half a wing missing. He expects a prototype to fly higher than 35,000 feet and carry a half-ton load 1,000 miles at 400 mph, a feat that the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency had once challenged the aviation industry to accomplish.

The aircraft’s design has received a seal of approval from Design Analysis Research Corp., an engineering firm based in Kansas.

Oliver’s start-up firm, Oliver VTOL, has been negotiating with potential investors who may be willing to foot the bill to develop the prototype. Once funding is secured, Oliver hopes to have a demonstrator built and flying within 24 months.

The plan is to buy an existing aircraft, strip it down to the fuselage and then add Hexplane’s wings and propulsion units. Oliver’s team will develop a flight control system that allows it to be tested without a pilot in the cockpit.

Oliver has been discussing his concept with Pentagon officials and has sent the design to a few different agencies. He sees many applications for the Hexplane, manned and unmanned. The aircraft could carry sensors, weapons, troops and cargo. It could be used for medivac, search and rescue and for civilian operations, such as transport to off-shore oil rigs, Oliver said.

The “true calling” of Hexplane remains to be seen, he said.

Topics: Aviation, Rotary Wing

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