Blue Thunder, the 1983 Roy Scheider epic about a police helicopter pilot who gets the opportunity to test-drive an experimental bad-guy catching aircraft, captivated me at a young age. Already smitten with aircraft and air travel of all sorts (having been ferried around the U.S. in passenger jets by myself already), I saw the movie as a spanning epic of explosions, cold steel and, yes, industrially kick-ass air travel.
One thing that I remember distinctly about that movie, however, was the helicopter's ability to be virtually silent. You know, to sneak up on the bad guys in a several-ton machine, and beat the holy shit out of them with unmatched firepower? Yeah, it could do that. I had a Blue Thunder, officially licensed helicopter toy when I was a kid, and I would make sure that when I was making the rotor noise while chasing the criminals in my living room, I'd try to mock the "silent mode" of the craft. It was an obvious effort, after all, since that was one of the coolest features of the chopper.
Fast forward to 2010, and the movie Blue Thunder (and Roy Scheider, R.I.P.) is just a memory. Research and development for a stealth helicopter, though, is in full force and being tested actively by Eurocopter, based mainly out of Germany. Their aim? To drastically reduce the noise associated with rotary-wing aircraft with a radical new blade design dubbed "Blue Edge" (an uncanny reference, don't you think?).
Blue Edge promises to redefine the way helicopters are manufactured so that pilots and passengers alike can enjoy air travel without the mind-numbing decibel levels associated with current blade designs. If they're successful, true "stealth" helicopters like Blue Thunder might not be so far off.
The design goal is to overcome what is called "Blade Vortex Interaction," which basically means that each blade hits a vortex from the blade in front of it during the rotation of the set of blades. Although defeating this is no easy task, the Blue Edge concept seems to be working, at least initially. Tests are ongoing at Eurocopter with their EC155 Dauphin helicopters, and research seems to be promising.
Now, I can look forward to at least two things for my future: welcoming our robot overlords AND silent, personal helicopters to tool around in.