US Navy helps finance Israeli "rotorless" helicopter

The aircraft's developer, Urban Aeronautics, is on the brink of signing a collaboration agreement with US company Bell Helicopter.

Lod-based Urban Aeronautics Ltd. is about to sign a cooperation agreement with Bell Helicopter for the delivery of helicopters to all branches of the US armed forces. At this stage, the company has obtained financing to develop its vertical-take-off and landing (VTOL) aircraft, a "rotorless" helicopter, for the US Navy. This week, the company unveiled a model of its helicopter at the Farnborough Air Show in the UK

Developed by Urban Aeronautics president Dr. Rafi Yoeli for search and rescue operations, the aircraft can carry 11 people. Thanks to its special structure, the aircraft can approach close to the window of an office building at any floor to rescue people.

The technology model of the aircraft, the "X-Hawk", was completed two years ago, and the first order for it as a rescue aircraft was placed by the Herzliya Medical Center. Yoeli says much depends on the collaboration agreement due to be signed with Bell Helicopter, with which Urban Aeronautics will work in the US military market.

The US Navy will initially allocate $1 million for the project, shared equally between Bell Helicopter and Urban Aeronautics. The Aeronautics Department of the University of Pennsylvania, which received a US Navy grant of several hundred thousand dollars, will also participate in the development of the aircraft.

The lifting principle of Urban Aeronautics' aircraft is similar to that of a normal helicopter. It has two built-in rotors that spin very rapidly, drawing air from above and driving it downwards it over vanes located on the underside of the aircraft. In contrast to an ordinary helicopter, the rotors are not exposed above the aircraft, but are placed within it.

Yoeli said the concept of developing a helicopter with a without an external rotor was not new, but that Urban Aeronautics' patented design overcame two previously unsolved problems. The first technological breakthrough was solving the problem of the steering, command and control system. The second technological breakthrough was in speed. Previous rotorless helicopters could reach 50 km/h.

"Our contribution was to create flight capability at forward speeds of up to 250 km/h. This is faster than an ordinary helicopter," says Yoeli. "This speed is essential for a helicopter intended for search and rescue or to supply troops."

Under the business model formulated with Bell, the entire project will remain in Urban Aeronautics' hands. The two companies will share revenue from marketing to the US armed forces. In exchange for its marketing efforts, Urban Aeronautics will give Bell Helicopter a license to use its technology.

Yoeli says Urban Aeronautics aims to raise $10 million, and has so far raised $7 million to continue development. When development is complete, the company hopes to begin trials and the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) licensing procedure. Yoeli predicts that the first X-Hawk will fly in 2008, and that deliveries to customers will begin three or fours later.

Yoeli was a senior engineer at Israel Aircraft Industries Ltd. (IAI), and many former senior IAI managers now work for Urban Aeronautics. The company's chairman is Ovadia Harari, until recently senior VP. The company's directors include Maj.-Gen. (res.) David Ivri, a former Israel Air Force commander and also formerly IAI chairman, and Dr. Nino Levy. a former CEO of IAI subsidiary Elta.

Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - www.globes.co.il - on July 20, 2006

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2006

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