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Monday September 16, 2002

Israeli internal-rotor helicopter loves a tight squeeze

Israel ( Globes staff reports ) - A trio of Israeli Air Force veterans has developed an urban helicopter without exposed rotors that can be landed on a crowded street and can be flown in an area with many elevated high-tension wires.

Developers of the helicopter, called the X-Hawk, think it can be used much more safely than current helicopters with exposed rotors to service and maintain high-tension wires, as an evacuation-and-rescue vehicle, or as a special policing and patrol vehicle. The new chopper could be used effectively to approach close to the sides of buildings to rescue people from skyscrapers or whisk executives to airports above traffic jams.

The X-Hawk is the invention of Rafi Yoeli, Omri Knoller and Eran Ron, who have founded a company to build and market their creation called Urban Aeronautics, based in Kfar Truman, Israel. The helicopter has already begun initial trials, including operation of the engine and lifting the rear section.

The new helicopter will contain two jet engines in the front and rear, although the company's prototype still has internal combustion engines. The designers have installed rotors above the engines to enable the helicopter to take off. Hundreds of tiny wings located above and below the engines account for the X-Hawk's superior maneuverability compared with existing helicopters. The lateral movement of the shutter-like wings provides the helicopter with enough lateral propulsion to handle winds of varying speeds and to operate close to buildings.

Such tasks as maintaining high-tension wires is already done by helicopter, Yoeli said, but exposed rotors require large safety spaces, preventing service technicians from reaching the wires from inside the helicopter. The X-Hawk is expected to overcome this obstacle, because it can get close to the cable without risk of contact with the rotors.

The X-Hawk is steered with a stick, attached to the engine through a computerized control system known as "fly-by-wire," making it much easier to maneuver. "Fly-by-wire" technology is used in F-16 fighter jets, among other uses.

The first planned test of the X-Hawk will be through the Herzliya Medical Center, where it will be used to transport doctors and paramedics to the scene of an accident or a terror attack and evacuate the wounded.

Urban Aeronautics has raised about $1 million so far, according to Ron, and the company needs to raise $7 million to $8 million more to be able to display two prototypes at the Paris Air Show 30 months from now.

Although launching a commercial product is expected to take five to six years, Urban Aeronautics believes it can return a profit to investors within two years. The company predicts that the minute the market sees the prototype, a medium-sized or major aerospace manufacturer will either agree to manufacture and market the vehicles, in exchange for a large stake in the company, or acquire the company outright.

"It's obvious that a small Israeli company can't manufacture helicopters by itself," Ron said. "A large (company) will be needed to start commercial manufacturing. We'll develop the product as far as the prototype. The question is whether the available capital in Israel is capable of exploiting the opportunity and moving the project forward."

"The value of the company will jump to a whole new level the minute we go to the Paris Air Show and demonstrate evacuation and rescue from skyscrapers," Yoeli predicted.



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