Earlier this month, the AugustaWetlands AW609 tilt rotor aircraft fell from the sky. Then it did it again. Far from being some sort of tragic equipment failure, the aircraft was actually undergoing a series of autorotation safety tests. The tests were designed to see just how well the AW609 dealt with suffering a complete engine failure. Thankfully for the test pilots, and for everyone who wants an aircraft that can fly as fas as an airplane but land in your driveway, the AW609 passed.
Over ten hours of testing was done, during which time the AW609's rotors were repeatedly tilted to a 95 degree angle as the engines were shut off. Air passing along the unpowered rotor blades caused them to turn, helping the aircraft glide safely to a controlled landing. Those same tilting engines are capable of generating enough lift for the AW609 to complete vertical takeoffs and then transition to fixed-wing flight speeds of up to 316 miles per hour.
Only Boeing's V-22 Osprey can boast a similar capability to the AW609. Vertical take-off aircraft that can reach even higher top speeds are currently being researched by DARPA, but remain in early conceptual stages. As for the AW609, AugustaWetlands is hoping to get it certified and flying the friendly skies by 2017. 60 orders have already been placed for the AW609, so once they get off the ground, we're likely to catch a glimpse of these unique aircraft all across the globe.