Investigation of an extremely flexible stowable rotor for micro-helicopters
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This thesis describes the analysis, fabrication and testing of a rotor with extremely flexible blades, focusing on application to a micro-helicopter. The flexibility of the rotor blades is such that they can be rolled into a compact volume and stowed inside the rotor hub. Stiffening and stabilization of the rotor is enabled by centrifugal forces acting on a tip mass. Centrifugal effects such as bifilar and propeller moments are investigated and the torsional equation of motion for a blade with low torsional stiffness is derived. Criteria for the design of the tip mass are also derived and it is chosen that the center of gravity of each blade section must be located ahead of the aerodynamic center. This thesis presents the design of 18-inch diameter two-bladed rotors having untwisted circular arc airfoil profile with constant chord. A systematic experimental investigation of the effect of various blade parameters on the stability of the rotor is conducted in hover and forward flight. These parameters include blade flexibility in bending and torsion, blade planform and mass distribution. Accordingly, several sets of blades varying these parameters are constructed and tested. It is observed that rotational speed and collective pitch angles have a significant effect on rotor stability. In addition, forward flight velocity is found to increase the blade stability. Next, the performance of flexible rotors is measured. In particular, they are compared to the performance of a rotor with rigid blades having an identical planform and airfoil section. It is found that the flexible blades are highly twisted during operation, resulting in a decreased efficiency compared to the rigid rotor blades. This induced twist is attributed to an unfavorable combination of tip body design and the propeller moment acting on it. Consequently, the blade design is modified and three different approaches to passively tailor the spanwise twist distribution for improved efficiency are investigated. In a first approach, extension-torsion composite material coupling is analyzed and it is shown that the centrifugal force acting on the tip mass is not large enough to balance the nose-down twist due to the propeller moment. The second concept makes use of the propeller moment acting on the tip mass located at an index angle to produce an untwisted blade in hover. It is constructed and tested. The result is an untwisted 18-inch diameter rotor whose maximum Figure of Merit is equal to 0.51 at a blade loading of 0.14. Moreover, this rotor is found to be stable for any collective pitch angle greater than 11 degrees. Finally, in a third approach, addition of a trailing-edge flap at the tip of the flexible rotor blade is investigated. This design is found to have a lower maximum Figure of Merit than that of an identical flexible rotor without a flap. However, addition of this control surface resulted in a stable rotor for any value of collective pitch angle. Future plans for increasing the efficiency of the flexible rotor blades and for developing an analytical model are described.