As the name implies, a tiltrotor aircraft uses tiltable rotating propellers, or proprotors, for lift and propulsion. For vertical flight the proprotors are angled to direct their thrust downwards, providing lift. In this mode of operation the craft is essentially identical to a helicopter. As the craft gains speed, the proprotors are slowly tilted forward, with the blades eventually becoming perpendicular to the ground. In this mode the wing provides the lift, and the wing's greater efficiency helps the tiltrotor achieve its high speed. In this mode, the craft is essentially a turboprop aircraft.
A tiltrotor aircraft is different from a tiltwing, in which the whole wing is rotated, rather than just the rotors on a tiltrotor. On the V-22 this reduces lift by 10% in purely vertical flight, but the fixed wings offer better angles of attack for short takeoffs and landings.
The idea of building Vertical Take-Off and Landing aircraft using helicopter-like rotors at the wingtips originated in the 1930s. The first design resembling modern tiltrotors was patented by George Lehberger in May 1930, but he did not further develop the concept. In World War II, a German prototype, called the Focke-Achgelis FA-269 was developed starting in 1942, but never flew.
Two prototypes which made it to flight were the one-seat Transcendental Model 1-G and two seat Transcendental Model 2, both powered by single reciprocating engines. Development started on the Model 1-G in 1947, though it did not fly until 1954. The Model 1-G flew for about a year until a crash in Chesapeake Bay on July 20, 1955, destroying the prototype aircraft but not seriously injuring the pilot. The Model 2 was developed and flew shortly afterwards, but the US Air Force withdrew funding in favor of the Bell XV-3 and it did not fly much beyond hover tests.
The Transcendental 1-G is the first tiltrotor aircraft to have flown and accomplished most of a helicopter to aircraft transition in flight (to within 10 degrees of true horizontal aircraft flight).
Built in 1953, the experimental Bell XV-3 flew until 1966, proving the fundamental soundness of the tiltrotor concept and gathering data about technical improvements needed for future designs.
In 1972, with funding from NASA and the U.S. Army, Bell Helicopter Textron started development of the XV-15, a twin-engine tiltrotor research aircraft. Two aircraft were built to prove the tiltrotor design and explore the operational flight envelope for military and civil applications.
In 1981, using experience gained from the XV-3 and XV-15, Bell and Boeing Helicopters began developing the V-22 Osprey, a twin-turboshaft military tiltrotor aircraft for the U.S. Air Force and the U.S. Marine Corps.
Bell and Boeing have teamed up again to perform a conceptual study of a larger Quad TiltRotor (QTR) for the US Army's Joint Heavy Lift (JHL) program. The QTR is a larger, four rotor version of the V-22 with two tandem wings sets of fixed wings and four tilting rotors.
In vertical flight, the tiltrotor uses controls very similar to a twin or tandem-rotor helicopter. Yaw is controlled by tilting its rotors in opposite directions. Roll is provided through differential power or thrust. Pitch is provided through rotor cyclic or nacelle tilt. Vertical motion is controlled with conventional rotor blade pitch and either a conventional helicopter collective control lever (as in the Bell/Agusta BA609) or a unique control similar to a fixed wing engine control called a thrust control lever (TCL) (as in the Bell-Boeing V-22 Osprey).
Speed and payload issues
The tiltrotor's advantage is significantly greater speed than a helicopter. In a helicopter the maximum forward speed is defined by the turn speed of the rotor; at some point the helicopter will be moving forward at the same speed as the spinning of the backwards-moving side of the rotor, so that side of the rotor sees zero or negative airspeed, and begins to stall. This limits modern helicopters to cruise speeds of about 150 knots / 277 km/h. However, with the tiltrotor this problem is avoided, because the proprotors are perpendicular to the motion in the high-speed portions of the flight regime (and thus never suffering this reverse flow condition), meaning that the tiltrotor has relatively high maximum speed - over 300 knots / 560 km/h has been demonstrated in the two types of tiltrotors flown so far, and cruise speeds of 250 knots / 460 km/h are achieved.
This speed is achieved somewhat at the expense of payload. As a result of this reduced payload, a tiltrotor does not exceed the transport efficiency (speed times payload) of a helicopter. Additionally, the tiltrotor propulsion system is more complex than a conventional helicopter due to the large, articulated nacelles and the added wing; however, the improved cruise efficiency and speed improvement over helicopters is significant in certain uses. Speed and, more importantly, the benefit to overall response time is the principal virtue sought by the military forces that are using the tiltrotor. Tiltrotors are inherently less noisy in forward flight (airplane mode) than helicopters. This, combined with their increased speed, is expected to improve their utility in populated areas for commercial uses and reduce the threat of detection for military uses. Tiltrotors, however, are typically as loud as equally sized helicopters in hovering flight.
Tiltrotors also provide substantially greater cruise altitude capability than helicopters. Tiltrotors can easily reach 6000 m / 20,000 ft or more whereas helicopters typically do not exceed 3000 m / 10,000 ft altitude. This feature will mean that some uses that have been commonly considered only for fixed-wing aircraft can now be supported with tiltrotors without need of a runway. A drawback however is that a tiltrotor suffers considerably reduced payload when taking off from high altitude.
List of tiltrotor aircraft
- 1930 - George Lehberger patent
- 1938 - Baynes Heliplane
- 194_ - Focke-Achgelis Fa 269
- 1950 - Havilland Platt patent 2,702,168
- 1955 - Bell XV-3
- 1963 - Curtiss-Wright X-19
- 1977 - Bell XV-15
- 1989 - V-22 Osprey
- 1998 - Bell Eagle Eye
- 2003 - Bell/Agusta BA609
- Boeing looks ahead to a 'V-23' Osprey
- "History of tiltrotor technology", NASA Ames Research Center
- Norton, Bill. Bell Boeing V-22 Osprey, Tiltrotor Tactical Transport. Midland Publishing, 2004. ISBN 1-85780-165-2.
- Tiltrotor/Helicopter Payload comparison and transport efficiency shown at "Naval Expeditionary Logistics: Enabling Operational Maneuver from the Sea", Commission on Physical Sciences, Mathematics, and Applications, figs D.3 and D.4, Page 82
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It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Tiltrotor".