AgustaWestland unveils world's first electric tilt rotor aircraft


March 7, 2013

Project Zero is claimed to be the world's first electric tilt rotor aircraft

Project Zero is claimed to be the world's first electric tilt rotor aircraft

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The engineers at aerospace firm AgustaWestland are no slouches when it comes to tilt rotor aircraft, having recently developed the intriguing commercial-use AW609. It seems, however, that they’ve been holding out on us ... over a year and a half ago, they began secretly test-flying what they have now publicly unveiled as being the world’s first electric tilt rotor airplane. It’s known simply as Project Zero.

The technology demonstrator aircraft was reportedly designed and built over a period of just six months. It made its first unmanned tethered flight at the company's Cascina Costa facility in Italy, in June of 2011. It has since been flown several other times in 2011 and 2012, including some untethered flights “inside a secured area.”

As with other tilt rotor aircraft, Project Zero’s two rotors can be tilted up to 90 degrees. This allows it to take off and land vertically and to hover, like a helicopter, while also flying forward with the speed and efficiency of a fixed-wing aircraft. Each of the rotors are driven by their own electric motor, which is powered by rechargeable batteries – technical details are sparse at this time. When parked on the ground, those rotors can be tilted to “windmill” in the oncoming wind, charging the batteries as they do so.

Project Zero’s control systems, flight controls and landing gear actuators are also all electrically powered, which means no hydraulic system is required – the plane also doesn’t require a transmission.

The aircraft's entire exterior surface is carbon graphite to maximize strength and minimize weight. The wings provide most of the lift when cruising, with elevons (combined elevators and ailerons) controlling pitch and roll, and the V-tail adding longitudinal stability. For missions that are primarily taking place in “helicopter mode,” however, the outer portion of the wings can be removed for increased maneuverability.

Additionally, because Project Zero’s electric motors don’t require oxygen in order to operate, the aircraft could conceivably fly at very high altitudes or in heavily-polluted air. It should also be difficult to detect, as it makes little noise and has a low thermal signature while in flight.

It’s hard to say when or if we might see a production version of Project Zero, as it was designed as “an insight into what advanced rotorcraft of the future may look like.” AgustaWestland is looking into the possibility of a hybrid version, which would use a diesel engine to power a generator.

Source: AgustaWestland via Wired

About the Author
Ben Coxworth An experienced freelance writer, videographer and television producer, Ben's interest in all forms of innovation is particularly fanatical when it comes to human-powered transportation, film-making gear, environmentally-friendly technologies and anything that's designed to go underwater. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, where he spends a lot of time going over the handlebars of his mountain bike, hanging out in off-leash parks, and wishing the Pacific Ocean wasn't so far away. All articles by Ben Coxworth

I noticed that they didn't mention range.


You would look very strange taxiing along the freeway to find a recharging station when you misjudge the range left in your batteries and realise you are too far from the airport! Nevertheless, still pretty cool.

The Skud

Add a small-efficient gas motor and some Li-On batteries and you have range and simplicity......

It says it recharges while on the ground using the windmiling of the props. Wonder if that mode can be 'engaged' during a glide descent.

OK so unlikely to increase range to any worthwhile degree, but could be utilised to provide a 'power assisted' landing by putting a little back in to the batteries after a glide descent if it were to be flown till the pack died.

Thinking about it, one would hope this is a built-in automatic function, to provide power to the systems, even with no battery connected or a battery that did die in flight. Guessing they are not using the same battery chemistry as Boeing ?

Neil Paisnel

Range - 5 miles

Rocky Stefano

If you look reeeeeaaaaalllly closely at the area by the canopy, it says "Batteries not included"...


Nothing eats energy like vertical flying. Imagine pushing a car by hand. Then imagine how much energy you need if you get under the car and lift it! These blades are small and require high RPM. They are asking a lot from electricity. Sometimes you just have to choose which way to go.


Certainly not how I'd do one. Far more easy is a tilt wing and a lot less plane/weight.

I doubt that tail from the single pic has much effect below 100mph and even then marginal.

They better cross drive as lose an engine and it won't be pretty how fast it would go into a high speed spin.

EV helicopters done right with say 2 12' counter rotating fixed rotors and controled by a stick that tilts the rotor forward, etc, is simple, light, easy to fly, stable and wouid have about a 30 minute, 30 mile range or better on todays tech. Versions have been on this blog before as an ultralight I believe.

It's the only eff, small VTOL that might actually make production. And talk about a great cummuting vehicle!!


A project looking for a microwave beam generator for inflight recharging.

L1ma They have fuel cells for aviation. Perhaps it could be used in this one to extend the range?

I think it is a neat design.


I'm surprised by some of the comments,this is incredible technology,electrics are so efficient,granted battery capacity has a way to go,but it will come.I see a day when high rise fires are put out by multirotor aircraft,people could walk on to a flying platform.A few of these could have landed on the twin towers, opening the top doors and saving hundreds of people.This eliminates a lot of mechanical hardware,these are well suited to fly by wire.We should all embrace this technology,it may save your life someday.

Thomas Lewis

30 minutes of flight time is how much your supposed to have left when you land.


Thomas Everything looks good on paper but we must live in reality. I take it you're not a pilot. No one or machine could have landed on the top of the World Trade Center while engulfed in burning jet fuel. Plus the time duration of the batteries could not come close to the time needed to put out a fire. Water is about 8#'s per gallon which also adds to the load on batteries. The one thing that was a good thought was using the wind to charge the batteries. It might take a few days but at least they were thinking.


They show takeoff - transition - flight videos of the tilt wing they sell, this one looks a wee bit different with engine mounts to the fuselage. The motor/prop transition movement would be around two axis at the same time to keep prop lined up from up to forward. It be nice to see just a static photo of the motor/props in the forward flight position. Are the blade arcs seperated, or do they have some overlap, requiring some fancy control, just to keep the blades from hitting each other ?

Dave B13

Lack of oxygen at high altitude also means thin air which requires increased rotor speed or increased rotor pitch


Is that the name of the plane, or the service ceiling?? Ralph L. Seifer, Long Beach, California.


Small electric "toy" helicopters, airplanes and full size Tesla & several other automobiles, quite powerful drills and battery operated multi-tools, plus cell phones & laptops today perform pretty well, and we're no-where near the end of battery chemistry development. There is an annual 10X Battery worldwide annual symposium. I don't think there is any doubt. If a Tesla can go 300 miles on a single charge today, then even a 3X improvement would be 900 miles. 5X would be 1500 miles. Certainly several battery & solar electric aircraft have already flown quite successfully. I look for at least 2X batteries to be available in just a couple years (Envia has demonstrated 400Wh/kg pouch battery production prototypes by sending samples to independent labs under DARPA observation). Why would anyone doubt the ongoing technological advancement?? Fossil Fuels are running out. We better damn sure be developing something else!! Batteries can be recharged by the Sun. That power source will be around for a long time. Hey if you don't believe its feasible or possible, get out of the way of those who are doing it. Stop faking failures in phony tests, like Top Gear did to Tesla & Nissan and the New York Times did to Tesla. If you're so dedicated to Fossil Fuel, fine, horde some in your basement, but stop interferring with those of us who have a cleaner vision of the future.

Donald Eyermann

Gets an A++ for looks.

Tom Swift

"...The aircraft's entire exterior surface is carbon graphite ..."

Do you mean carbon fibre composite? Graphite is a weak allotrope of carbon with little strength on its own. Carbon fibre composite has carbon fibres in a matrix of a resin such as epoxy.

Sheldon Cooper

cool toy ...

Jeffrey Carlson
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