president and CEO of Avimech International Aircraft, Inc., and
the Dragonfly, hydrogen peroxide rocket-powered. Photo by James
With concerns about carbon emissions and
non-renewable fuels climbing, the diminutive Dragonfly, a one-person
light rotorcraft, has gotten airborne at an auspicious moment. It's
"The first green helicopter in the world," says Ricardo
Cavalcanti, president and CEO of Avimech International Aircraft, Inc.,
based in Tucson, Arizona (www.tipjetusa.com),
the Dragonfly's manufacturer.
The Dragonfly is powered by a pair of
102-hp hydrogen peroxide-powered rocket engines, each about 8 inches
long and weighing 1.3 pounds, placed at the tip of the rotorcraft's twin
aluminum blades. The exhaust gas is water vapor. Cavalcanti notes that
hydrogen peroxide is a readily available and inexhaustible fuel, and
currently sells for about $3.60 per gallon.
The helicopter is making its world debut
at AirVenture, but it's been in development for more than a
half-century, Cavalcanti says. The project was initiated in the
mid-1950s by the U.S. Navy, and went through various hands before
Cavalcanti took control three years ago. He spent the years since 2007
"locked in a room," reviewing engineering drawings and
mathematics, refining the design and building the prototype. The
Dragonfly received FAA certification in November 2009.
Because it uses rocket power generated at
the blade tips, there is no torque, making the Dragonfly much easier to
operate than conventional rotorcraft. It has no rudder pedals or
hydraulic system. The tail rotor is used simply to turn the aircraft in
circles, not to counteract rotor torque. With fewer moving parts than a
conventional helicopter, the Dragonfly is less expensive to make, less
prone to failure, and easier to maintain, Cavalcanti says.
The Dragonfly's gross weight is 1,250
pounds and empty weight is 250, providing an 800-pound useful load. Rate
of climb is 2,300 fpm, and cruise speed is 50 mph, while the 22 gallon
tank provides 1.5 hours of endurance at the burn rate of 11 gph.
Cavalcanti says the rockets can be
powered by fuels other than hydrogen peroxide, and that the engines can
be used on other aircraft. A 200-hp variant of the engine is powering a
two-seat version of the Dragonfly the company has already developed,
according to Cavalcanti. He believes there is a market for about 220 of
the one-place helicopters per year. It is available with option packages
for use in aerial application (crop spraying), Search and Rescue, border
patrol, and emergency response. The Dragonfly is priced at $120,000.
Five are built and are being offered as a show special at AirVenture for
$84,000 with a Kevlar helmet, flight vest, factory training, and free
delivery anywhere in the Continental United States.
This is Cavalcanti's first visit to
AirVenture since his initial visit in 1996.
"I feel I'm home," he said.
"I feel I'm brining something that is very important for
transportation, and very important for light helicopters."