Moble Benedict/Texas A&M

Developed well over 100 years ago, the cyclocopter is a unique aircraft. Instead of rotating around a vertical axis, like a helicopter, the blades of a cyclocopter rotate around horizontal axis in order to generate enough force to lift the aircraft up off the ground.

Due to their immense difficulty to handle, cyclocopters are not as widely used as helicopters are. Currently, only a select number of research groups continue to develop and test out cyclocopters. Many are on very low budgets and produce small-scale products.

One researcher, Professor Moble Benedict, along with two graduate students at Texas AandM’s Advanced Vertical Flight Laboratory, are currently testing the world’s smallest cyclocopter. Weighing in at just 29 grams, this small model may be one of the first steps toward a better aircraft, effectively replacing helicopters and multirotors.

Dr. Benedict, who received his Ph.D. from the University of Maryland in 2010, has been working on cyclocopters for years. In fact, one of his products allowed UMD to really cash in on the opportunity as one of the first institutions to make effective changes to the cyclocopter design.

Cyclocopters are so appealing because of their more controlled maneuverability, stability, and space efficiency. In theory, an effective cyclocopter would also be much faster and quieter than modern helicopters.

According to Dr. Benedict, the reason that cyclocopters do not dominate the skies today has to do with the advancement of building materials.

“One of the biggest structural issues in cyclorotors is the fact that blades have to take large transverse centrifugal bending loads,” said Benedict, “and 100 years ago, we did not have the materials that had the strength-to-weight ratio to do that.”

Now with the creation of composites, which are made up of two or more materials that have been combined in a way that allows them to work together while keeping their individual properties, it is possible to design a lighter material that designers can use to create lightweight, yet strong blades to accommodate the size of the aircraft.

This cyclocopter took two years to develop and was sponsored by the Army Research Laboratory’s MAST-CTA Program, which would like to create a small, maneuverable micro drone. But Benedict has other ideas that are more universal.

“I hope that in the future, once this technology is more mature, it will find its place in the next generation of personal air vehicles and flying cars,” said Benedict.