A new type of helicopter, which the Boeing Co. says could revolutionize the industry, flew for the first time Wednesday at the U.S. Army Proving Ground in Yuma.
The Canard Rotor/Wing aircraft was designed by engineers at Boeing's helicopter plant in Mesa. Called the X-50A Dragonfly, it features a main rotor blade that spins during vertical takeoffs and landings and stops to function as a fixed wing during high-speed cruising.
During the first test flight, the unmanned prototype flew for about 80 seconds, the company said. It lifted off vertically from the launch site to an altitude of 12 feet, hovered and then landed. The experimental aircraft is being developed jointly by Boeing's Phantom Works and the Defense Advance Research Projects Agency, the research and development arm of the U.S. Department of Defense.
The helicopter is powered by a single jet engine. During rotary wing flight the engine's exhaust is diverted through the two main rotor blades and exits through small nozzles in the rotor tips, causing the blades to spin.
As the forward speed increases, the exhaust is diverted through a nozzle at the back, propelling it forward and allowing the rotor to stop and lock in place as a fixed wing. A large horizontal tail and a forward canard provide more lift. The system eliminates the need for the mechanical transmission, drive train and tail rotor needed in traditional helicopters. Boeing engineers believe that both manned and unmanned helicopters can eventually be built using the canard/rotor wing design for military and civilian missions including reconnaissance, communications, armed escort, command and control and medical evacuation.