As a proposed alternative to heavy vehicle road transport, UK-based 4x4 Aviation has conceived a hybrid VTOL cargo plane fitted with electric, tiltable, ducted fans that it claims will be able to carry truck-sized loads at nearly 200 mph (320 km/h). Dubbed the VV (Versatile Vehicle)-Plane, the aircraft is aimed at reducing the transport costs in developed countries by claiming a better cost-weight ratio than current motor vehicle transport while also helping in developing nations where impassable or non-existent roads hamper the movement of large loads over land.

Based on a hybrid system that the creators claim will drive four clusters of four electrically-powered ducted fans via an energy storage system charged by an on-board combustion engine generator, the VV-Plane would lift off vertically and then move the ducted fans to a horizontal position for forward movement. The aircraft will also have a horizontal stabilizer at the rear and a similarly-sized forewing near the nose.

The company claims to have patented the bespoke gimbal technology that will be used to rotate the ducted fans, saying that the gimbals and an "intuitive" software system allows the transition from vertical to horizontal flight without relying on current mechanical tilting mechanisms that are both heavy and expensive.

The VV-Plane design boasts a 15 m (50 ft) wingspan with a fuselage of exactly the same length, and will be able to carry 30 tonnes (33 tons) of cargo. The full-size VV-Plane is also designed at that size so as to be able to carry an industry-standard Twenty-foot Equivalent Unit (TEU) container, so that it may directly complete with road transport in this size category.

To validate their proof of concept, 4x4 Aviation plans to display and fly a prototype scale-model of the VV-Plane on 26 September at Ashford Airport in Lydd, Kent, where the company is based. The model will have a 1 m (3.2 ft) wingspan, carry a 5 kg (11 lb) payload, and be used to test the flight control system.

Though the idea of a ducted fan heavy lift VTOL vehicle is nothing new – the ARES cargo UAV being one notable example – the unique feature for the proposed VV-Plane is its reliance on electric ducted fans to produce the thrust required to vertically lift tens of tons. This will be quite a test of its power, as even ultra-powerful rotary wing, combustion-engine aircraft such as the Chinook Ch-47F with nearly 10,000 hp (7,450 kW) on tap would struggle to carry half the proposed payload of the VV-Plane.

With no dates so far set to launch the full-scale version, 4x4 Aviation is currently pursuing financial backing for the next stage in its development, which will be centered on the development of the company’s technologies that - aside from the VV-Plane itself – includes efficient, low-cost combustion engine technology, an innovative energy-storage system, and unique electric-turbine knowledge.

The company video below outlines the VV-Plane and some of the technology involved.

Source: 4x4 Aviation