Aeronautics was neither an industry nor a science. It was a miracle.
Igo Ivan Sikorsky (1889-1972), aviation pioneer who gave the world its 1st practical helicopter
I have been a believer in electric aircraft for some time. Electric motors can have phenomenal torque (turning force) and tend to be extremely light and compact when compared with internal combustion equivalents—and they are relatively inexpensive to build. Torque is particularly useful when it comes to the need to move a considerable quantity of air to generate vertical lift—as is the case with rotary aircraft where all the work is done by the rotor. Where conventional aircraft are concerned, the wing does much of the lifting.
The snag? Where do you get your electric power from? Add a generator and its fuel you tend to lose most—though not all—of your weight advantages. Besides, conventional engines are known quantities and are much easier to get certified (a major problem when it comes to aircraft innovation). As a consequence, although there is some development work in this area, there is much less than I would like to see.
If you combine a single powerful generator with multiple electric motors, you start regaining your weight advantages—and if you use ducted fans instead of traditional un-shrouded rotors, you achieve considerable efficiencies. You can also swivel your ducted fans to transition from vertical lift to horizontal (much as the V22 Osprey does now). The only problem you face is with the weight and complexity of your swivel mechanism. But supposing you had a patented lightweight swivel system—and the whole thing was controlled by highly sophisticated software?
A UK company called 4X4 has combined these principles—plus other innovate thinking—to propose (I’m quoting from the ever excellent www.gizmag.com )
“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
If the VV can carry 3o Tons at nearly 200 mph (320lm/h) at an economic rate it will be quite revolutionary—and will be of enormous significance militarily. It could mean, for instance, that light armor (such as the M8 Armored Gun System) could be transported by air.
Currently the Chinook CH-47F Block 2 will carry only about 10 tons. The new Marine CH53K will lift 17.5 tons—a little over half the VV’s target.
Personally, I think the VV will work. Using multiple ducted fans will make all the difference. However, the real issue will be whether the company will be able to raise the necessary funds.