A unique new aircraft design that combines the “manoeuvrability of a multicopter with an albatross’ ability to glide long distances” could be well-suited for urban flights, its creators have said.

The Albacopter, as the new design is known, was developed by six Fraunhofer Institutes in Germany. Led by the Fraunhofer Institute for Transportation and Infrastructure Systems, the ‘lighthouse project’ started in 2021, with the objective of building a flying platform that could combine the agility of a multicopter with the efficiency of a glider.

The aircraft, which will soon be demonstrated using a scaled drone version, was designed to meet the many and varied requirements of Urban Air Mobility (UAM), including safety, environmental criteria, energy efficiency and autonomous capabilities.

“Some exceptional features of this experimental VTOL (vertical take-off and landing) glider include drone bodies and cargo containers made from sustainable materials, high-performance coaxial propulsion systems, powerful multi-sensor systems for perceiving the environment and monitoring functionalities, and failsafe on-board electronic systems including an AI-based autopilot,” said project manager Professor Matthias Klingner.

For the structure, the Fraunhofer Institute for Chemical Technology ICT developed pultruded fibre-reinforced thermoplastics that were integrated into the space frame fuselage architecture. As with the transportation containers, which were made from biopolymer hard foam, the system components can reportedly be recycled easily.

“In contrast to today’s eVTOL systems, which are usually equipped with direct drives, the efficient propulsion design used in the Albacopter is based on high-speed synchronous motors with multi-stage transmission and high power density,” said Professor Frank Henning, director of Fraunhofer ICT.

Hybrid copter-gliders, including variable sweep-wing aircraft and multicopters with retractable wings and pivoting rotors, are currently becoming established as a middle ground between helicopters, multicopters and conventional fixed-wing aircraft, the researchers said. The institutes will make the Albacopter available for testing different VTOL technologies.

The team is validating the design in multiple stages, using flight models, wind tunnel experiments, iron bird test rig structures and simulations using a digital twin. The scaled version of the drone, with a wingspan of 7m and payload capacity of about 25kg, will be launched this autumn. Flight tests are expected to start early next year.

Extracted from IMechE website, read more here

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