New Aerodynamic Rotor Head Makes Helicopters Fly at 248 Mph

The Rapid And Cost-Effective Rotorcraft will increase helicopters' speed, minimize carbon emissions, and decrease noise.
Fabienne Lang
Visualization of the rotor headTUM

An international team of scientists from the Technical University of Munich (TUM) and Airbus Helicopters (AH) is working towards creating an aerodynamic solution to increase helicopters' speed, minimize carbon emissions, and decrease noise. 

The team has designed an "aerodynamically shape-optimized rotor head full fairing" for the RACER demonstrator. 

The Rapid And Cost-Effective Rotorcraft, or RACER, will help the team create an aircraft that can reach speeds of up to 248 mph (400 km/h) in forward flight, which is also quieter and greener than current helicopters. 

Helicopters are essential aircraft as they are able to land and take off from spots regular planes can't always reach. However, contemporary helicopters consume more energy, and don't fly as fast as planes during forward flight. It all comes down to the helicopter's rotor, which assists it with vertical take-off and landing, as well as its steadiness during flight, but it ultimately creates more drag when in cruise mode. 

This is what the team is looking to update so that helicopters' new rotors help increase the entire aircraft's aerodynamics and effectiveness, as well as decrease noise levels and emissions. 

The new rotor head fairing 

The TUM and AH team has developed an aerodynamic fairing for the rotor head, as this section along with the fuselage are what create the most drag for helicopters when they're cruising, explains Patrick Pölzlbauer, a research associate at the TUM. 

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Reducing fuselage drag has already been extended to its maximum capacity, but until now no aerodynamically optimized full fairing to the rotor head has been developed. 

And that's because it's an extremely complex challenge, the team points out. This is why scientists combined this complex aerodynamic process with modern software and calculations. 

Pölzlbauer designed the shape of the new rotor head in a way that enables the flow to remain attached as long as possible to minimize any turbulence.

The team's next steps will be to produce the rotor head fairing and test it on a flight demonstrator.

Improving helicopters' functionality will keep pushing the aircraft to its best abilities, and further its uses for missions.