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Computational Study of Flow Interactions in Coaxial RotorsAlthough the first idea of coaxial rotors appeared more than 150 years ago, most helicopters have used single main-rotor/tail-rotor combination. Since reactive moments of coaxial rotors are canceled by contra-rotation, no tail rotor is required to counter the torque generated by the main rotor. Unlike the single main rotor design that distributes power to both main and tail rotors, all of the power for coaxial rotors is used for vertical thrust. Thus, no power is wasted for anti-torque or directional control. The saved power helps coaxial rotors reach a higher hover ceiling than single rotor helicopters. Another advantage of coaxial rotors is that the overall rotor diameter can be reduced for a given vehicle gross weight because each rotor provides a maximum contribution to vertical thrust to overcome vehicle weight. However, increased mechanical complexity of the hub has been one of the challenges for manufacturing coaxial rotorcraft. Only the Kamov Design Bureau of Russia had been notably successful in production of coaxial helicopters until Sikorsky built X2, an experimental compound helicopter. Recent developments in unmanned aircraft systems and high-speed rotorcraft have renewed interest in the coaxial configuration. Multi-rotors are frequently used for small electric unmanned rotorcraft partly due to mechanical simplicity. The use of multiple motors provides redundancy as well as cost-efficiency. The multi-rotor concept has rarely been used until recently because of its inherent stability and control problems. However, advances in inexpensive electronic flight control systems have opened the floodgates for small drones using multirotors. Coaxial rotors have started to appear in some multi-rotor configurations. Small coaxial rotors have often been designed using a hundred year old approach that is "sketch, build, fly, and iterate." In that approach, there is no systematic way to explore trade-offs or determine logical next steps. It is neither possible to account for multiple real-world constraints up front in design nor possible to know what performance is possible with a given design. Since unmanned vehicles are sized and optimized for the particular mission, a modern low-fidelity conceptual design and sizing tool that has been used for the design of large helicopters can be used for design of small coaxial rotorcraft. However, unlike most helicopters with single main rotor, the interactions between the upper and lower rotors emerge as an important factor to consider in design because an increase in performance of a multi-rotor system is not proportional to the number of rotors. Interference losses and differences in thrusts between the upper and lower rotors were investigated by theoretical methods as well as a computational fluid dynamics (CFD) method using the Reynolds-Averaged Navier-Stokes (RANS) equations. In this work, hybrid turbulence models are used to investigate the physics of interactions between coaxial rotors and a fuselage that are not well understood. Present study covers not only small-scale drones but also large-scale coaxial rotors for heavy-lifting missions. Considering the recently proposed FAA drone rules that require the flight only in visual line-of-sight, a large multirotor might be used as an airborne carrier for launch and recovery of unmanned aircraft systems with a human operator onboard. For applications to civil operations, their aerodynamic performance and noise levels need to be assessed. Noise is one of the largest limiting factors to rotorcraft operations in urban area. Since the high-frequency noise of multi-rotors may increase the annoyance, noise may turn out to be a key issue that must be addressed for market acceptability. One of the objectives of the present work is to study the effects of inter-rotor spacing and collectives on the performance, efficiency, and acoustics of coaxial rotor systems.
Document ID
Acquisition Source
Ames Research Center
Document Type
Conference Paper
Yoon, Seokkwan
(NASA Ames Research Center Moffett Field, CA United States)
Lee, Henry C.
(Science and Technology Corp. Moffett Field, CA, United States)
Pulliam, Thomas H.
(NASA Ames Research Center Moffett Field, CA United States)
Date Acquired
January 26, 2016
Publication Date
January 20, 2016
Subject Category
Aircraft Design, Testing And Performance
Report/Patent Number
Meeting Information
Meeting: AHS Technical Meeting on Aeromechanics Design for Vertical Lift
Location: San Francisco, CA
Country: United States
Start Date: January 20, 2016
End Date: January 22, 2016
Sponsors: American Helicopter Society International
Funding Number(s)
Distribution Limits
Public Use Permitted.
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