Image Credit: Lestocq – Source
Tilt-rotor hybrid fixed-wing/vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) UAVs are a fairly new addition to the unmanned systems industry. Several prototypes have been created but they have not yet become mainstream.
What are tilt-rotor UAVs?
Tilt-rotor unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are hybrid fixed-wing/VTOL drones that can takeoff and land using rotating proprotors positioned vertically and rotate these rotors horizontally in flight for horizontal flight. These rotors are placed on the tips of their fixed wings.
Take note that proprotors are propellers that are used for both vertical and horizontal flight.
How Do Tilt-Rotor UAVs Work?
Tilt-rotor UAVs are a sub-type of hybrid fixed-wing/VTOL UAVs.
Check out our full article on what hybrid fixed-wing/VTOL UAVs are where we dive into how they work, their types, applications, parts/components, advantages/disadvantages, and some examples:
Related Post: What Are Hybrid Fixed-Wing/VTOL Drones (UAVs)?
To fully understand how tilt-rotor UAVs work, we first have to look over how both fixed-wing UAVs and rotary-wing UAVs work.
Fixed-wing UAVs use wings/airfoils that are sized and shaped in a way that captures the flow of air as the aircraft’s airspeed increases which thus produces lift. We go into more detail in our article on what fixed-wing UAVs are.
Rotary-wing UAVs use one large main spinning rotor (typically with an anti-torque device/tail rotor) or multiple smaller rotors all spinning at a rapid speed. The propellers act as small airfoils capturing airflow and generating lift.
The direction of the UAV can be changed by altering the angle of the prop/s.
Tilt-rotor UAVs use proprotors found on the tips of their fixed wings that are positioned vertically for vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) then rotate horizontally in flight for horizontal flight once a suitable speed and altitude is achieved.
They typically differ from other types of hybrid fixed-wing/VTOL UAVs in shape and in the way they transition from vertical to horizontal flight and vice versa.
Check out our full post on the types of hybrid fixed-wing/VTOL UAVs:
There are hybrids between these types of drones in that the tilt-rotor configuration can actually be mixed together with the quadplane design.
What Are Tilt-Rotor UAVs Used For?
Here are 5 applications for tilt-rotor UAVs:
- Survelliance operations of any kind to survey large areas for long periods of time and hover in place to focus on specific sections
- Long pipeline inspections as they can cover large areas while hovering in place to focus on a specific section for more accurate data
- Search and rescue operations as they can land in tight spaces while still covering large areas
- Farmers can use them to inspect their large crop fields while using the VTOL capabilities hovering in place to focus on specific sections
- Ocean surveys as they can cover large areas while hovering when needed to focus on a specific object
These are some common applications that are beneficial to these types of UAVs as they can both hover in place and can cruise for extended periods of time.
We have a full article that goes into applications for fixed-wing unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and applications for rotary-wing unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).
What Parts/Components Make Up Tilt-Rotor UAVs?
Tilt-rotor UAVs are typically made up of a fuselage, wings, tail assembly/empennage, landing gear/undercarriage, a propulsion system, and a mechanism enabling them to transition from vertical to horizontal flight.
The wings typically include control surfaces such as ailerons and flaps to aid in controlling the vehicle’s pitch and roll.
A conventional tail assembly/empennage is made up of elevators and a fin acting vertically, and a rudder and tailplane acting horizontally.
There are different types of tail assemblies used in UAVs that we have gone into in our article on the types of fixed-wing UAVs.
The landing gear/undercarriage can be made up of various devices such as retractable wheels, skids and even skis for land-based operation, or floats for water-based operation.
Typical components include a transmitter, receiver, servos, lights, inertial navigation system (INS), electronic speed controllers (ESCs), and flight controller.
The propulsion system can be made up of a powerplant such as a battery, an engine, fuel cell (FC), solar power etc.
Propellers are devices used for propulsion. They can be used for both vertical and horizontal flight.
Check out our full post where we dive into several powerplants and propulsion devices currently used in drones. For each power source, we expand on how they work, the types, advantages/disadvantages, and real examples of drones that use it.
Related Post: How Are Drones Powered? 6 Drone Energy Sources Explained
We have a full post that goes into the main fixed-wing UAV parts and components and the main rotary-wing UAV parts and components.
What Are The Advantages And Disadvantages Of Tilt-Rotor UAVs?
The advantages and disadvantages of tilt-rotor UAVs include mixtures of the advantages and disadvantages for both fixed-wing UAVs and rotary-wing UAVs.
There are many benefits and drawbacks to fixed-wing unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) as well as benefits and drawbacks to rotary-wing unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).
Tilt-rotor UAV advantages
Here are 4 tilt-rotor UAV advantages:
- They can efficiently fly for long distances reducing the number of times they need to land and expanding the area they can cover
- They can reach very high altitudes compared to basic rotary-wing UAVs
- They enable the drone to benefit from the advantages of both fixed-wing and rotary-wing UAVs
- They can hover in place for extended periods of time
Tilt-rotor UAV disadvantages
Here are 4 tilt-rotor UAV disadvantages:
- They typically cost much more compared to basic configurations due to these often complex softwares and mechanisms enabling them to smoothly and safely transition in flight
- The transition mechanism is much more complicated than other types of hybrid fixed-wing/VTOL UAVs transition methods
- The added transition mechanisms (rotating props) weigh down the UAV making them less efficient overall than the basic fixed-wing or rotary-wing configurations
- The transition between vertical to horizontal flight requires the UAV to have reached a suitable altitude
Check out our full article on the advantages and disadvantages of hybrid fixed-wing/VTOL unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs):
Related Post: 11 Hybrid Fixed-Wing/VTOL UAV Advantages & Disadvantages
What Are Some Examples Of Tilt-Rotor UAVs?
Here are 4 examples of tilt-rotor UAVs:
If you’d like to discover who the best drone companies are in the world for the consumer, commercial and military drone markets and some fun facts about them, we have a full post on this topic below:
The tilt-rotor unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) configuration has not yet gotten the attention it deserves as is the case for the general hybrid fixed-wing/VTOL type of drone.
We highly recommend you check out our main article on what hybrid fixed-wing/VTOL UAVs are to learn more about these incredible types of drones.