Piasecki Awarded $37 Million AFWERX Funding for Tilt-Duct VTOL UAS

The award will enable Piasecki to demonstrate its Aerial Reconfigurable Embedded System (ARES) tilt-duct vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) unmanned aerial system (UAS) and hydrogen fuel cell propulsion technologies By Joe Macey / 01 Dec 2023
Piasecki to Develop Next-Gen VTOLs and Hydrogen Propulsion Technologies
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The U.S. Air Force has awarded $37 million to Piasecki Aircraft Corporation to develop next-generation vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) aircraft and hydrogen propulsion technologies.

The funding was awarded by AFWERX, the USAF’s innovation arm in conjunction with the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL), as part of its Strategic Funding Increase (STRATFI) program.

The award will enable Piasecki to demonstrate its Aerial Reconfigurable Embedded System (ARES) tilt-duct VTOL unmanned aerial system (UAS) as well as hydrogen fuel cell propulsion technologies for VTOL and other aviation applications.

“The STRATFI program plays a critical role in advancing emerging American technologies and we are thrilled to receive this significant investment,” said John Piasecki, CEO of Piasecki Aircraft. “This new funding will allow us to demonstrate ARES’ unique tilt-duct configuration, which enables seamless transition between hover and fixed-wing forward flight — a technological leap that would address critical aerial challenges faced by the U.S. military. The STRATFI test program will also fund the demonstration of zero-emission hydrogen fuel cell propulsion technology for VTOLs, including our forthcoming PA-890 compound helicopter. Demonstration of the PA-890 would be a world-first for electric aviation and would usher in a new era of clean vertical flight. While R&D work on these projects began several years ago, this new funding will rapidly expand our ability to deliver these radically new vehicles to customers and partners across the military and commercial sectors.”

The funding will support Piasecki R&D programs, including:

  • Aerial Reconfigurable Embedded System (ARES) – ARES is a modular multi-mission tilt duct VTOL vehicle that can be operated unmanned (UAS) or with an optional manned flight module. ARES is designed with a small landing footprint to enable shipboard and expeditionary operations as well as provide embedded multi-mission C4I, ISR, combat, and logistics support to small distributed combat forces operating over extended distances and in complex terrain. Rapidly-reconfigurable Mission Payload Modules deliver mission flexibility that significantly reduces overall logistics footprint and cost. The ARES Demonstration Vehicle was produced in partnership with Lockheed Martin with funding from DARPA. With follow-on funding from the U.S. Air Force and Army, Piasecki and Honeywell are integrating a triplex fly-by-wire flight control system to initiate ARES flight testing by the end of this year.
  • Hydrogen Fuel Cell Propulsion System – Piasecki is collaborating with ZeroAvia, a leader in hydrogen-electric aviation, to develop and implement its revolutionary High Temperature Proton Exchange Membrane (HTPEM) hydrogen fuel cell technology for PA-890 and other VTOL applications. The PA-890 eVTOL aircraft is expected to be the first zero-emission hydrogen-powered compound helicopter. The slowed-rotor winged helicopter is intended for use in a variety of missions including Emergency Medical Services (EMS), delivery of high-value On-Demand Logistics (ODL), On-Demand Mobility (ODM) personnel air transport, and many other commercial applications across the $40 billion commercial light helicopter market. In addition to zero carbon emissions, the PA-890 eVTOL enables up to a 50% reduction in direct operating cost and reduced noise compared with today’s fossil fuel turbine helicopters — and significantly greater range compared with all-electric helicopters.

Val Miftakhov, Founder and CEO, ZeroAvia, added; “Higher temperature fuel cells are a critical technology to delivering improvements in specific power and unlocking truly clean propulsion for larger fixed wing aircraft, but they will also enable rotorcraft and VTOL applications. Working together on this project with a company of Piasecki’s heritage and expertise in rotorcraft, with US Air Force backing, is a hugely exciting step in delivering on our vision of hydrogen-electric engines in every aircraft.”

Posted by Joe Macey Connect & Contact