The future is all about electrification and autonomous technologies but it is not just in the automobile industry as in the aviation space you will also see similar changes brewing. Sikorsky for example has unveiled plans to make a hybrid-electric vertical take-off and landing demonstrator (HEX/VTOL) with a tilt-wing configuration. The design will be the first in a series of large, next-generation VTOL aircraft ranging from helicopters to winged configurations — which will have electrification and an advanced autonomy system for optionally piloted flight.

“We never stop innovating at Sikorsky,” said Sikorsky President Paul Lemmo. “Autonomy and electrification will bring transformational change to flight safety and operational efficiency of large VTOL aircraft. Our HEX demonstrator program will provide valuable insights as we look to a future family of aircraft built to the scale and preferred configurations relevant to commercial and military customers.”

The tilt-wing design is distinctive but is also about adding functionality while also improving other crucial aspects of the aircraft. One of the key elements would be to execute vertical landings and take-offs while each aircraft will have a range greater than 500 nautical miles (575 miles) at high speed. Efficiency is important and the HEX program will put a focus on greater than 500 nautical mile range at high speed, fewer mechanical systems to reduce complexity, and lower maintenance costs- something which is very crucial.

The next generation of VTOLs

Designs are being finalized to build a hybrid-electric power systems testbed with a 600KW electric motor. The testbed will be the first step to check out the hover performance of the follow-on HEX demonstrator — a 9,000-pound maximum gross weight aircraft with a 1.2MW-class turbogenerator and associated power electronics. Sikorsky Innovations, the company’s prototyping group, and GE Aerospace are involved in this.

Then there is the autonomous aircraft which will further reduce costs and will bring a pilotless flight. This new family of aircraft will be important in terms of commercial applications as well as for the military.

“Within Sikorsky’s electric pillar, we are designing electric motors, power electronics, and our 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.”

The next generation of VTOLs would be electrified and the application of technology is crucial for increasing efficiency along with lowering costs.