Boeing A160 Hummingbird Has Whisper Mode

The Boeing A160 Hummingbird is a new drone helicopter able to operate autonomously for up to twenty-four hours. The A160 is thirty-five feet long with a thirty-six foot rotor diameter. The U.S. Special Forces Command is taking delivery of ten A160's this month.


(A160 Hummingbird drone helicopter)

It can fly at up to 140 knots at 30,000 feet, much higher than conventional helicopters can fly, even while carrying a three hundred pound payload. The A160 has a specially redesigned rotor blade:

To avoid vibration problems, the rotor blades are light and stiff, and their stiffness in flap, lag and torsion is progressively reduced from root to tip, so that the tips are more flexible than the root. This is made possible by the use of tailored carbon fiber construction. The A160 rotor is hingeless and rigid, and has a larger diameter and lower disc loading than a conventional helicopter rotor with the same maximum lift.

Its rotor can be slowed to as little as forty percent of its maximum RPM, operating between 150-350rpm with tip speeds as low as Mach 0.25. This makes it highly fuel efficient and very quiet; helicopter noise is closely linked to rotor speed.

This drone copter made me think of a purely fictional helicopter - Blue Thunder, from the 1983 movie of the same name. The movie was made from a screenplay written in 1979; I don't know if any real-world copters were used as the idea for whisper mode.


(Blue Thunder has whisper mode [1983])

Blue Thunder had a special "whisper mode", a special stealth feature that allowed the copter to hover or move slowly with very little noise.

Boeing's A160 Hummingbird is specifically designed for quiet surveillance; the fictional Blue Thunder helicopter also had special surveillance capabilities. I'm guessing that if the A160 is used in the United States, people may have some the the same misgivings toward the A160 that Frank Murphy (Roy Scheider) had toward Blue Thunder being used for civilian police functions.

Read more at Special Forces Get Stealth Robocopter and an earlier, technical article - Tomorrow's aircraft are poised to break all the rules.

Scroll down for more stories in the same category. (Story submitted 11/24/2008)

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