Technology 3 min read

Russia's DARPA Revives the 100-Year-Old Cyclocopter

StockSnap / Pixabay

StockSnap / Pixabay

The Advanced Research Foundation (FPI) is the research division of the Russian military proposed by President Vladimir Putin as a response to the U.S. Department of Defense’s DARPA.

Founded in 2012, this multi-billion dollar agency specializes in R&D in different defense solutions, mainly automated systems and hypersonic technologies.

The agency has recently shown off some of its work in the past, like unmanned ground-based robots that look like mini tanks.

Infantry soldiers and swarms of small quadrotor drones assist these killer robots to select targets. More human intervention is needed for the semi-autonomous robotic tanks to work efficiently, but ultimately, according to FPI, the goal is to delegate these tasks to AI algorithms.

FPI is also working on a cyclocopter, an unusual type of manned aerial vehicle.

Russia Wants Cyclocopters as Flying War Robots

A cyclocopter is an aircraft that generates thrust to lift off the ground using paddle-wheels, or rotating blades. In theory, this rotorcraft can take off, hover, move forward or backward, and maneuver freely.

For Russia’s FPI, cyclocopters represent a viable option that meets certain aerodynamic requirements.

FPI concluded after a year-long research that the best iteration for a flying vehicle that can carry a load of 220-2,200 pounds with passengers is a cyclocopter.

The cyclocopter project manager, Jan Chibisov firmly believes the design is superior to helicopters or multicopters. According to Chibisov:

“As shown by mathematical modeling, the cyclocopter is superior in a number of key parameters to multicopters. In particular, with the same dimensions and take-off mass, the cyclocopter requires a much smaller engine power and almost twice the mass of the payload,”

According to Chibisov, cyclocopters are also better safety-wise as they can continue freewheeling through the air for a while if the engine turns off.

“The cyclogyro aircraft design could glide on engine failure. None of the helicopters I crashed in seemed to want to do that,” he adds.

The concept of the cyclocopter, also called a cyclogyro, goes back to 1909 with Evgeny Sverchkov, a Russian engineer — although then they were called “Samoljot” or  “wheel orthopter”.

Read More: The Rise of Killer Robots: Why Military Machines are a War Crime

Many have worked on cyclocopter configurations over the years with little success. After cyclocopters achieved takeoff in the 1930s, they faced maneuverability issues due to the lack of flight controls at the time.

Professor Moble Benedict and his team at Texas A&M’s Advanced Vertical Flight Laboratory have been working on the smallest cyclocopter ever that weighs just 29 grams, or a little over an ounce.

Cyclorotors at small scale, according to Benedict, can benefit from aerodynamic conditions similar to those experienced by winged insects.

In 2016, the team demonstrated their tiny cyclocopter flying and manoeuvring, thinking of scaling their design up to one day cyclocopter drones can offer a better alternative to helicopters and multirotors.

Read More: Insight: New SkyX Drone Could Revolutionize the Oil & Gas Industry

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Zayan Guedim

Trilingual poet, investigative journalist, and novelist. Zed loves tackling the big existential questions and all-things quantum.

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