Sunday, July 14, 2024

Sikorsky’s new hybrid-electric VTOL aircraft promises 926 km range

Sikorsky, a Lockheed Martin company, is developing a new family of hybrid rotorcraft, including a hybrid-electric vertical takeoff and landing (HEX/VTOL) tilt-wing demonstrator that can also offer pilot-optional autonomous flight.

This is a significant development in the field of unconventional rotorcraft, especially with the growing interest in electric and hybrid electric rotorcraft. Sikorsky’s entry into this market is a sign of its innovation and vision.

The new HEX program by the Lockheed Martin subsidiary includes three hybrid and autonomous rotorcraft: a conventional helicopter and a quadcopter with tiltable propulsion nacelles. The third one is a tilt-wing design that allows for vertical takeoffs and landings and the ability to transition to winged horizontal flight for greater speed and range.

The aim of this program is to put a premium on greater than 500 nautical miles (926 km) range at high speed, fewer mechanical systems to reduce complexity, and lower maintenance costs. The finished demonstrator will have a maximum gross weight of 9,000 lb (4,000 kg) and feature a 1.2 MW-class turbogenerator and associated power electronics.

The new HEX program features three hybrid, autonomous rotorcraft.
The new HEX program features three hybrid, autonomous rotorcraft. Credit: Lockheed Martin

Currently, Sikorsky Innovations and GE Aerospace are finalizing designs to build a hybrid-electric power systems testbed with a 600 KW electric motor for hover performance tests.

The new HEX family vehicles will have different electrification degrees, implying a simpler mechanical design. This can be especially beneficial for tilt-wing or tilt-rotor crafts that usually face challenges with complex power and control mechanical linkage systems. Also, these vehicles will have a high level of autonomy, which means that they can be piloted optionally.

“Within Sikorsky’s electric pillar, we are designing electric motors, power electronics, and our own vehicle management hardware and actuation,” said Igor Cherepinsky, Sikorsky Innovations director. “HEX will integrate these components, showcase the growing maturity of our MATRIX™ autonomy suite, and the potential for maintenance-free systems. Seeing the results will lead us to more efficient overall designs.”