Sikorsky is developing a hybrid-electric tilt-wing VTOL with 575-mile range

Sikorsky HEX-VTOL Tilt-wing Aircraft
Sikorsky's upcoming VTOL aircraft will be built upon the key technologies of electrification and autonomy. Images courtesy Lockheed Martin

In an era where the aerospace industry is continuously evolving, Sikorsky, a renowned name in the sector, has taken a significant leap with the development of its hybrid-electric vertical takeoff and landing (HEX/VTOL) tilt-wing demonstrator. This initiative marks a notable advancement in the realm of rotorcraft, promising a blend of innovation, efficiency, and versatility that stands out even in a crowded field of unconventional aircraft designs.

Sikorsky, a subsidiary of Lockheed Martin, is no stranger to pioneering aerospace solutions. Its latest endeavor, announced on February 27, is part of a broader HEX program aimed at introducing a new family of hybrid rotorcraft. This program is distinguished by its focus on hybrid-electric technology and the option for autonomous flight, setting a new benchmark for future developments in the industry.

The HEX program encompasses three distinct designs: a conventional helicopter, a quadcopter with tiltable propulsion nacelles, and the standout tilt-wing aircraft. The tilt-wing concept is particularly noteworthy for its ability to execute vertical takeoffs and landings while transitioning to winged horizontal flight for enhanced speed and range. Such a design aims to marry the best of both worlds: the agility of VTOL capabilities with the efficiency and speed of fixed-wing aircraft.

Sikorsky’s ambitions with this program are bold, targeting a range that exceeds 500 nautical miles (575 miles or 926 kilometers). The tilt-wing demonstrator, with a maximum gross weight of 9,000 pounds (4,000 kilograms), is powered by a 1.2 MW-class turbogenerator. This powerplant is a testament to the project’s innovative spirit, supported by ongoing collaborations with GE Aerospace to develop a hybrid-electric power systems testbed featuring a 600 KW electric motor for hover performance evaluations.

Sikorsky HEX-VTOL Aircraft Family
The new Sikorsky HEX/VTOL family.

The incorporation of varying degrees of electrification in the HEX family points to a strategic move towards simplifying the mechanical design. This approach is crucial for tilt-wing or tilt-rotor crafts, which historically face challenges with complex power and control systems. Moreover, the emphasis on autonomy introduces a pilot-optional feature, heralding a future where the reliance on human pilots could be significantly reduced, if not entirely optional.

Igor Cherepinsky, the Director of Sikorsky Innovations, highlights the integration of in-house developed electric motors, power electronics, and vehicle management hardware in the HEX program. The initiative is not just about showcasing the technological prowess of Sikorsky but also about advancing the maturity of its MATRIX autonomy suite and exploring maintenance-free systems. The HEX program is poised to lead to more efficient overall designs, setting a new standard for the aerospace industry.

While pricing information for Sikorsky’s HEX/VTOL aircraft is not detailed in the announcement, the significance of this development transcends cost. It represents a major step forward in the quest for more efficient, versatile, and autonomous aircraft, promising a new era of rotorcraft technology that could reshape the aerospace landscape in the years to come.

Source: Lockheed Martin