In January 2012, Aerofex presented its recent work at the American Helicopter Society Future Vertical Lift Conference in San Francisco. The technology discussed utilizes ejector dynamics to augment the thrust and control of ducted-fan aircraft. The goal of the effort is to simplify vertical flight, in this case by eliminating the complexity of cyclically-variable rotors.

The technical paper is published and distributed through the AHS. The presentation video, shown here without the benefit of narration, documents the technology’s effectiveness through a sequence of flight maneuvers demonstrated on a manned aerial-vehicle.

Tested:

Aerofex is a company that has been working on a prototype of a pilotable hover vehicle that lifts its rider up to 15 feet tall and can move at speeds of about 30 miles per hour.

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These aren’t toys, and unless you’re a humanitarian doctor or border guard, you’ll probably never get the chance to act out your Skywalker fantasies.

“Where we see the biggest market would come in agriculture, search and rescue, border control and transportation,” DeRoche told Wired. “When I say transport, I don’t mean you and I taking one of these to go to the grocery store. I mean places where there’s very little ground infrastructure – the Australian outback, East Africa, a doctor going between villages.”

That’s exactly the target audience Aerofex had in mind when it first started work on a low-altitude tandem duct aerial vehicle eight years ago. Previously, the aerospace company had designed everything from imitation military helicopters for movie sets to cargo plane interiors optimized for transporting horses. An early prototype briefly got off the ground in 2008, but it took until January of this year for the team to build a fully working unit.

“I thought we were perfectly suited to make a product for that market,” DeRoche said. “I never expected it to take so long.”

The symbiotic relationship between vehicle and rider is similar to a bicycle – each dependent on one another for controlled, stable flight. The benefit is simplicity; no artificial stabilization or software, and the pilot feels naturally in command with little prior training.

The pilot cruises in the direction he wishes to go with little conscious input or training. The vehicle takes cues from his intuitive movements and amplifies them aerodynamically to maintain his level flight path. By applying throttle, he can increase altitude and speed.

On this last flight of the test-bed before rework, the favorable downwash of ducted fans is clearly visible. Dust and debris are pushed away from the pilot, even while flying close to the ground.

The ducts prevent tip vortices from forming and isolate the fans from the external flow field. The latter quality permits unperturbed flight around obstacles and when transitioning indoors.

In contrast, the recirculating flow of open rotors has earned it a name, and the bane of pilots: “helicopter brownout” in the desert and “helicopter whiteout” in snow.

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