MECHANISMS AND ACTUATORS FOR ROTORCRAFT BLADE MORPHING
Vocke III, Robert Donald
Wereley, Norman M
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The idea of improved fight performance through changes in the control surfaces dates back to the advent of aviation with the Wright brothers' pioneering work on "wing warping," but it was not until the recent progress in material and actuator development that such control surfaces seemed practical for modern aircraft. This has opened the door to a new class of aircraft that have the ability to change shape or morph, which are being investigated due to the potential to have a single platform serve multiple mission objectives, as well as improve performance characteristics. While the majority of existing research for morphing aircraft has focused on fixedwing aircraft, rotary-wing aircraft have begun to receive more attention. The purpose of this body of work is to investigate the current state of morphing actuation technology for rotorcraft and improve upon it. Specifically, this work looks at two types of morphing: Pneumatic Artificial Muscle (PAM) actuated trailing edge flaps and conformal variable diameter morphing. First, active camber changes through the use of PAM powered trailing edge flaps were investigated due to the potential for reductions in power requirements and vibration/noise levels. A PAM based antagonistic actuation system was developed utilizing a novel combination of mechanism geometry and PAM bias contraction optimization to overcome the natural extension stiffening characteristics of PAMs. In open-loop bench-top testing against a "worst-case" constant torsional loading, the system demonstrated actuation authority suitable for both primary control and vibration/noise reduction. Additionally, closed-loop test data indicated that the system was capable of tracking complex waveforms consistent with those needed for rotorcraft control. This system demonstrated performance on-par with the state of the art pneumatic trailing edge flap actuators, yet with a much smaller footprint and impact on the rotor-blade. The second morphing system developed in this work is a conformal variable diameter rotor system suitable for implementation on a modern tilt-rotor aircraft, which can reduce power requirements in both cruise and hover configurations. An initial prototype variable span airfoil was constructed using a silicone elastomer matrix composite skin and a plastic rapid prototyped morphing substructure. Benchtop and wind tunnel tests verified the ability of this system to increase active wing area by 100%. The prototype technology was then matured for use in the harsh rotor blade environment, with a much stiffer polyurethane skin and a titanium substructure. Coupon testing verified the efficacy of this approach, and a final conceptual design was completed using the stiffness-tuning characteristics of the morphing substructure to create a self-actuating morphing blade tip.