Modification and Technological Advancement of the Planes
The Groen brothers, well aware of the technological advances made since the 1940s that could be applied to the basic gyroplane design, recognized the opportunity that a modern gyroplane presented. In particular they realized that the collective pitch controlled rotor system developed for helicopters could be applied to a gyroplane. This innovation would substantially improve a gyroplane’s ability to achieve vertical takeoff and landing, as well as dramatically improve performance in both high speed flight and safe low and slow flight. GBA has three U.S. Patents and several International Patents relating to the variable pitch rotor system they developed. With such improvements the gyroplane could become a safe, economical and versatile aircraft with appeal to a broad range of markets. Based on this insight, the Groens decided in 1986 to enter the market and to design their first gyroplane.
Following the successful flight of a proof-of-concept aircraft in 1987, the Groens designed, manufactured and flew several prototype test gyroplanes of increasing size and sophistication during the 1990s. Each of these gyroplanes were typically ultra-short take-off and landing (USTOL) aircraft that demonstrated that gyroplanes could be significantly easier to fly and maintain than a helicopter, would have significantly less maintenance down time and therefore much higher mission readiness, and would be safer than either airplanes or helicopters.
By 1999 Groen Brothers Aviation had designed and manufactured their first piston-engine version of the four-seat Hawk 4 Gyroplane. This aircraft flew in September 1999, followed by the turbine-engine version in July 2000. This latter aircraft, powered by a Rolls-Royce Model 250 420shp turboprop engine, was the world’s first turbine powered gyroplane. The Hawk 4 has flown in several hundred incident-free sorties, over hundreds of hours of flight time in its flight-test program.
Optimization of the Airfoil Perfomance
GBA is the first company to analyze and optimize gyroplane rotor blade airfoil performance. A technique designed (and performed) by three leading experts in rotor blade and airfoil design was utilized to complete this study, resulting in a family of natural laminar-flow airfoils for the rotor blades of the Hawk 4 and successor gyroplanes. The airfoil design optimizes the lift/drag relationship for the Hawk rotor system. Initial Hawk models will use aluminum rotor blades with GBA’s proprietary airfoil design, and subsequent models are anticipated to use composite blades with an enhanced GBA proprietary airfoil design that will permit increased operating speeds.
In 2002, GBA contracted with the Utah Olympic Public Safety Command (UOPSC) to provide perimeter patrol around the Salt Lake City International Airport during the 2002 Winter Olympics and Paralympics. The Hawk 4, as an integral part of security, was available 24-7, completing 67 missions and accumulating 75 hours of maintenance free flight time during its 90 day operational contract.
The Hawk 4 demonstrated to aviation that the modern gyroplane is a unique aircraft with many utilitarian qualities. The Hawk 4’s performance and exceptional versatility showed that the modern gyroplane can offer a safe and affordable alternative to helicopters and airplanes in many applications. Such an aircraft’s simple, robust, design translates into lower operating costs than any comparable turbine powered helicopter, particularly when enhanced by more recent developments in materials, engines and avionics. In recognition of these advantages, the Company has continued to assess opportunities for new designs for production Hawk series Gyroplanes. In particular the Company’s own advances in the use of composite materials and of new analytical techniques have identified significant opportunities for major performance improvements, particularly for larger gyroplanes.
Market Research for the New Plane Technology
After careful market assessment of the ‘sweet spot’ for a new gyroplane, combined with these new technical insights, the Company has initiated the design of a new larger Hawk model, the ArrowHawk, capable of carrying six passengers and pilot. The wide operating speed range, from 46 – 186 mph, of this highly maneuverable gyroplane also ensures the ArrowHawk a new niche in the aviation marketplace. Easy to fly and always in autorotation, the ArrowHawk offers uncompromising safety in the realm of flight. Separately, in February, 2003 recognizing its responsibility as the leader in gyroplane technology, , GBA undertook to address a problem impacting the gyroplane industry by producing a Stabilization Augmentation Kit, designed to dramatically improve in-flight stability and safety for what was then the most popular kit gyroplane in that market. Following the successful market reception of the stabilization kit, the Company decided to enter the full kit plane market, with own design of a two-seat gyroplane called the SparrowHawk. More than 120 SparrowHawk Gyroplanes and Stability Augmentation modification kits were sold before GBA discontinued this business line, after concluding that it was incompatible with its principal business objective of developing more advanced gyroplanes designed to meet FAA or comparable certification standards for fully assembled aircraft.
Although making this decision to cease production itself, the Company recognized that the SparrowHawk design could become a profit-making opportunity for an organization with lower overhead and operating costs that could focus on the kit market for the aircraft in the USA and other international markets that permitted sale of fully assembled aircraft of this type. As a result GBA has entered into a Memorandum of Understanding with a Company based in Guangzhou, China to set up a joint-venture for the production of light gyroplanes (those with four or less seats) including the SparrowHawk in China. With the expectation that such a joint-venture will be created, GBA has established a wholly-owned subsidiary and is in the process of transferring its interest in the SparrowHawk to the proposed joint-venture. As a result GBA has set up a wholly-owned special purpose subsidiary that is expected to own a substantial minority interest in the joint-venture.
GBA also continues to work on the development of a more advanced two-seat gyroplane named the ShadowHawk to be offered as Airborne Patrol Vehicle (APV). The ShadowHawk APV has the potential to be an excellent airborne patrol and surveillance vehicle for many applications both by law enforcement agencies and commercial operators, such as power line companies, here and abroad.
Since GBA’s patented rotor technology is fully scalable, its combination with the inherent stability, reliability and maneuverability of the gyroplane make an excellent surveillance or weapons platform for both manned and unmanned aircraft. GBA perceives applications of its technology to a wide range of future large, medium and small gyroplanes.
Development of Superior Planes
GBA has also developed conceptual designs for much larger gyroplanes modified to enable pure vertical take-off and landing, and provide the hover capability of a helicopter. A gyroplane, so modified is called a gyrodyne and obtains this capability by using small tip jets to power the rotor during takeoff and landing and while hovering. During cruise, with tipjets turned off, the gyrodyne flies as a gyroplane in sustained autorotative flight.
For a number of important commercial applications, GBA believes the gyrodyne will have significant advantages over any other aircraft type, including helicopters and tilt rotor aircraft. GBA has had extensive discussions with major aerospace companies on the application of its technology for both short range vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) airliners and package delivery aircraft, fire fighting air tankers and military freighters with range, payload and speed well in excess of the capabilities of any existing VTOL aircraft.
As earlier noted, DARPA’s recognition of GBA’s gyrodyne technology resulted a development contract for the Heliplane. This contract called for GBA to develop the preliminary design of the Heliplane which would exploit GBA’s gyrodyne technology, and offer the VTOL capability of a helicopter, the fast forward flight of an airplane, and the safety, simplicity and reliability of a GBA gyroplane. Ultimately this program anticipated the production of a demonstration Combat Search & Rescue rotorcraft capable of 400mph cruise, a range of 1,000 miles and a payload of 1,000 lbs.
The GBA team, which included Georgia Tech, Williams International and initially Adam Aircraft, was supported by a highly renowned team of aerospace consultants. A preliminary design was developed that, through analysis, successfully demonstrated in Phase I of the contract that the Heliplane would be capable of achieving these designated goals. A subsequent Phase IB under the auspices of Georgia Tech demonstrated that the Heliplane could additionally conform to commercial noise standards.
Making Follow-up to Manufacture a World-class Plane
The follow-up Phase II of the Heliplane program was designed to confirm through scale-model wind tunnel testing the positive analytical conclusions reached in Phase I. However, while the Heliplane project continues to be a DARPA program, the funding necessary to commence Phase II has not been allocated. As a result, when it became clear in May 2008 that GBA could not be assured of timely funding of Phase II, it became necessary to let go many of the highly qualified engineers and other staff that had been responsible for the success of Phase I
GBA, however, remains committed to continuing the Heliplane program should funding become available from DARPA or another appropriate source. It is the Company’s belief that the program can demonstrate that gyroplane technology will bring significant new capabilities to our armed services as well as serving important commercial needs. On this basis, we continue to seek avenues for the funding of this critical project. One such avenue is the Vertical Lift Consortium, an organization established by the Department of Defense to encourage cooperation between traditional rotorcraft manufacturers and non-traditional contractors. GBA has been accepted as a member of the VLC and is seeking partners through this mechanism to restart the Heliplane program.
The Company has continued to operate with a limited staff, enabled by funding provided by a major investor. GBA’s primary focus is on maturing its ArrowHawk and ShadowHawk designs and achieving the investment necessary for their introduction to their respective markets. As a means of portraying the potential capabilities of these aircraft, GBA is participating in the major Chinese Air Show at Zhuhai, Guangdong Province where it will be displaying a full-scale mock-up of the 40 ft long ArrowHawk, and will be showing it to Chinese officials who have already seen demonstration flights of the Hawk 4 and SparrowHawk.