THOR Transformer Drone Hovers Like a Helicopter and Flies Like a Plane
Since nearly the beginning of aviation, people have been trying to come up with a way for aircraft to take off without a runway. Helicopters are one answer, but are quite limited in their top speed. Other VTOL craft may be able to hover and fly in a straight line acceptably, but have to make performance sacrifices to do so.
As reported on IEEE Spectrum, one novel idea comes in the form of THOR, the Transformable HOvering Rotorcraft, built by researchers at the Singapore University of Technology and Design. This vehicle takes off like a helicopter, using two rotors to make the device’s body, and thus wings spin. These wings are tilted at 180 degrees to one another during takeoff, and the craft exhibits incredible control in this mode, pitching and rolling in different directions as needed, shown in the video below.
When it’s time to fly like a plane, the wings are rotated parallel to each other, and the pair of rotors that previously made the device spin now pull it through the air like an airplane. To return back to hover mode, the craft is put into a climb, then the wings again turn at angles to one another to provide thrust while spinning. This configuration allows for very few redundant parts in the craft, meaning excellent flight efficiency.
If this looks somewhat familiar, you may envision seeds that auto-rotate while falling, such as the samara fruit which inspired the design. Additionally, there was a toy that came out years ago called the “Switchblade” that could hover to take off, but landed like a normal airplane. Finally, in a much different context, WWII Germany envisioned a helicopter-like plane called the Triebflügeljäger, or “thrust wing hunter,” as an air-to-air interceptor.
Apparently every idea builds on the last, however, the THOR’s control ability goes well beyond either of those concepts.