Helicopter engineers are at work at labs and airports all over the country trying to refine and improve helicopters. One man, Ron Barrett, has invented a new electronic method of controlling the pitch of helicopter blades.
Barrett devised a combination of materials that contort when exposed to an electric field, a characteristic known as piezoelectric elasticity. He discovered that by applying small electric charges to a series of precise points along a helicopter’s rotor blade, he could cause the blade to twist to control the lift it produces.
The Barrett blades could reduce the number of parts in a helicopter’s hub dramatically. Already, in a test model, a hub using 94 parts was replaced by one needing just five. If the technology ever finds its way into commercial use, it could dramatically reduce the high cost of inspecting and maintaining helicopter hubs.
Another man, James Cycon of Sikorsky, found a new way to stack the blades of a helicopter. Instead of one main rotor and one tail rotor, Cycon simply stacked two blades rotating in opposite directions, thereby canceling each other’s torque. The result was a flying doughnut of sorts. Both rotors are shrouded inside a covering that protects the blades, meaning that the unmanned craft, which Sikorsky called “Cypher,” can fly into forested areas, for example, without being damaged by tree branches or other obstructions that could bring an ordinary helicopter crashing to the ground.
Old you think automobiles were the only vehicles equipped with air bags? Maybe not for long. Engineers and researchers are experimenting with the notion of installing side and front air bags in military helicopters. Helicopters fly at reasonably slow speeds. Landings are even slower, often much slower, than automobile crash speeds. Side air bags make a lot of sense, too, because the spinning rotor has a bad habit of causing helicopters to bp over during a crash. What if an air bag accidentally went off in flight? No problem. The bags deflate so quickly after blowring up that pilots had no problem continuing to fly safely.