(19)
(11)EP 3 309 060 B1

(12)EUROPEAN PATENT SPECIFICATION

(45)Mention of the grant of the patent:
29.04.2020 Bulletin 2020/18

(21)Application number: 17183531.7

(22)Date of filing:  27.07.2017
(51)International Patent Classification (IPC): 
F03D 7/02(2006.01)
B64B 1/30(2006.01)
B64C 3/46(2006.01)
B64C 11/20(2006.01)
F03D 1/06(2006.01)
B64C 39/10(2006.01)
B64C 3/30(2006.01)
B64C 11/18(2006.01)

(54)

INFLATABLE PROPELLER

AUFBLASBARER PROPELLER

PROPULSEUR A HELICE GONFLABLE


(84)Designated Contracting States:
AL AT BE BG CH CY CZ DE DK EE ES FI FR GB GR HR HU IE IS IT LI LT LU LV MC MK MT NL NO PL PT RO RS SE SI SK SM TR

(30)Priority: 13.10.2016 US 201615292812

(43)Date of publication of application:
18.04.2018 Bulletin 2018/16

(73)Proprietor: The Boeing Company
Chicago, IL 60606-1596 (US)

(72)Inventors:
  • Bernhardt, Roger David
    Chicago, IL 60606-1596 (US)
  • Drouin, Donald V.
    Chicago, IL 60606-1596 (US)

(74)Representative: Witte, Weller & Partner Patentanwälte mbB 
Postfach 10 54 62
70047 Stuttgart
70047 Stuttgart (DE)


(56)References cited: : 
US-A- 3 384 183
US-A1- 2005 151 007
US-A1- 2004 069 907
  
     
    Remarks:
    The file contains technical information submitted after the application was filed and not included in this specification
     
    Note: Within nine months from the publication of the mention of the grant of the European patent, any person may give notice to the European Patent Office of opposition to the European patent granted. Notice of opposition shall be filed in a written reasoned statement. It shall not be deemed to have been filed until the opposition fee has been paid. (Art. 99(1) European Patent Convention).


    Description

    BACKGROUND INFORMATION


    1. Field:



    [0001] The present disclosure relates generally to aircraft, and in particular, to controlling movement of the aircraft.

    2. Background:



    [0002] Aircraft fly by displacing ambient air to generate lift. The aircraft may fly using static lift, dynamic lift, or some combination thereof. The aircraft also operates at many different altitudes. Further, the aircraft may operate with many different system constraints and flight conditions. The design of the aircraft often depends on what altitudes and speed the aircraft will fly at during operation of the aircraft. For example, a high-altitude, lighter-than-air aircraft flying at 100,000 feet at relatively slower speeds may employ propellers that are much longer, lower speed, and shaped differently than engine propeller aircraft used for general aviation. The difference in propeller design, in part, is due to a change in air density at the different operating altitudes. At higher altitudes, the density of the air is thinner. As a result, propellers designed for lower altitudes will not provide the performance needed at higher altitudes, such as altitudes from 50,000 to 125,000 feet.

    [0003] As a result, the aircraft designed for one range of altitudes may not perform as well as desired at a different range of altitudes. Similarly, a vehicle design may not achieve maximum high altitude performance if the aircraft is also designed to take-off, land, operate, climb, and descend through lower altitudes with high density air, steady winds, and gusting winds. One solution involves using other secondary approaches to allow high-altitude long endurance (HALE) aircraft to reach higher altitudes. For example, secondary or supplemental propulsion, captive carriage on another vehicle, or towing by another vehicle may be employed.

    [0004] For example, a high-altitude long endurance (HALE) aircraft is often carried by an aircraft or rocket close to the range of altitudes at which the HALE aircraft operates. This type of deployment of the aircraft may be more complex and expensive than desired.

    [0005] Therefore, it would be desirable to have a method and apparatus that take into account at least some of the issues discussed above, as well as other possible issues. For example, it would be desirable to have a method and apparatus that overcomes a technical problem with controlling movement of the aircraft at the different altitudes.

    [0006] Document US 3 384 183 A, according to its abstract, shows an inflatable propeller which is made of rubber or the like. The propeller comprises an elongated body having a fluid expandable chamber therein and a valve means for introducing fluid into the fluid expandable chamber. The propeller also includes a hub, said hub being provided with a pump arrangement therein. A pressure sensitive valve is connected between the pump arrangement and the fluid expandable chamber for maintaining a pressure gradient between the chamber and atmosphere.

    [0007] Document US 2004/0069907 A1, according to its abstract, shows an airfoil member being provided including a geometric morphing device. The geometric morphing device has an inflatable member. The inflatable member has an exterior wall and multiple inflated states. A fiber mesh is coupled to at least a portion of the exterior wall and changes in shape according to fiber angle. Shape and size of the geometric morphing device are adjustable by changing inflated state of the inflatable member. An airfoil member altering system and a method of performing the same are also provided as well as a method of forming the geometric morphing device.

    [0008] Document US 2005/0151007 A1, according to its abstract, shows an inflatable, rigidizable wing for a terrestrial or planetary flying vehicle. The wing is caused to deploy from an initially packed condition and to assume its functional shape by means of an inflation gas. After inflation, the wing is rigidized by any of several means, such that the inflation gas is no longer required. The composite wing is fabricated from a base reinforcement material, often a fabric, which is coated with a polymer resin that hardens when exposed to a curing mechanism. Several activation mechanisms exist by which to initiate rigidization of such a structure, including elevated temperature, ultraviolet light, and chemical constituents of the inflation gas.

    SUMMARY



    [0009] An embodiment of the present disclosure provides an apparatus comprising a hub and a group of inflatable blades in which each of the group of blades has an end associated with the hub. The group of inflatable blades is configured to have a group of aerodynamic functions that control movement of an aircraft at a number of different altitudes. The group of aerodynamic functions is selected by a group of modes of inflation with a fluid, wherein the group of inflatable blades at the pressure has a shape and a group of dimensions that provide the aerodynamic function, wherein an inflatable blade in the group of inflatable blades comprises an inflatable outer structure that is an outer mold line for the inflatable blade and fluid bladders within the inflatable outer structure, wherein the inflatable outer structure and the fluid bladders are configured to be selectively inflated to change at least one of the shape or the group of dimensions for the inflatable outer structure.

    [0010] Yet another embodiment of the present disclosure provides a method for controlling movement of an aircraft. An aerodynamic function desired for controlling the movement of the aircraft at a particular altitude is identified. The aerodynamic function identified is part of a group of aerodynamic functions used to control the movement of the aircraft at a number of different altitudes. A group of inflatable blades is filled with a fluid to a pressure that corresponds to the aerodynamic function. The group of inflatable blades at the pressure has a shape and a group of dimensions that provide the aerodynamic function, wherein the group of inflatable blades at the pressure has a shape and a group of dimensions that provide the aerodynamic function, wherein an inflatable blade in the group of inflatable blades comprises an inflatable outer structure that is an outer mold line for the inflatable blade and fluid bladders within the inflatable outer structure, wherein the inflatable outer structure and the fluid bladders are selectively inflated to change at least one of the shape or the group of dimensions for the inflatable outer structure.

    [0011] The features and functions can be achieved independently in various embodiments of the present disclosure or may be combined in yet other embodiments in which further details can be seen with reference to the following description and drawings.

    BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS



    [0012] The novel features believed characteristic of the illustrative embodiments are set forth in the appended claims. The illustrative embodiments, however, as well as a preferred mode of use, further objectives and features thereof, will best be understood by reference to the following detailed description of an illustrative embodiment of the present disclosure when read in conjunction with the accompanying drawings, wherein:

    Figure 1 is an illustration of an aircraft movement control environment in accordance with an illustrative embodiment;

    Figure 2 is an illustration of a block diagram of an inflatable blade in accordance with an illustrative embodiment;

    Figure 3 is an illustration of an aircraft with an aircraft movement control system in accordance with an illustrative embodiment;

    Figure 4 is an illustration of an inflatable propeller in accordance with an illustrative embodiment;

    Figure 5 is an illustration of an inflatable propeller in accordance with an illustrative embodiment;

    Figure 6 is an illustration of an inflatable blade that provides an aerodynamic function in the form of low altitude, higher speed operation for maximum thrust in accordance with an illustrative embodiment;

    Figure 7 is an illustration of an inflatable propeller configured for buoyancy in accordance with an illustrative embodiment;

    Figure 8 is an illustration of an inflatable blade for an inflatable propeller in accordance with an illustrative embodiment;

    Figure 9 is an illustration of a portion of an inflatable blade in accordance with an illustrative embodiment;

    Figure 10 is an illustration of an inflatable blade in an uninflated state in accordance with an illustrative embodiment;

    Figure 11 is in illustration of an inflatable blade in a partially inflated state in accordance with an illustrative embodiment;

    Figure 12 is an illustration of an inflatable blade inflated to a first pressure in accordance with illustrative embodiment;

    Figure 13 is an illustration of an inflatable blade inflated to a second pressure in accordance with illustrative embodiment;

    Figure 14 is an illustration of an inflatable blade inflated to a third pressure in accordance with illustrative embodiment;

    Figure 15 is an illustration of an inflatable blade that provides an aerodynamic function in the form of differential thrust in accordance with an illustrative embodiment;

    Figure 16 is another illustration of asymmetric propeller with inflatable blades in accordance with illustrative embodiment;

    Figure 17 is an illustration of another inflatable propeller with three inflatable blades in accordance with an illustrative embodiment;

    Figure 18 is an illustration of an inflatable propeller with six inflatable blades in accordance with an illustrative embodiment;

    Figure 19 is an illustration of a flowchart of a process for controlling movement of an aircraft in accordance with an illustrative embodiment;

    Figure 20 is an illustration of an aircraft manufacturing and service method in accordance with an illustrative embodiment; and

    Figure 21 is an illustration of an aircraft in which an illustrative embodiment may be implemented.


    DETAILED DESCRIPTION



    [0013] The illustrative embodiments recognize and take into account one or more different considerations. For example, the illustrative embodiments recognize and take into account that it would be desirable to have a movement control system that is configurable to provide a needed amount of performance in moving an aircraft. The amount of performance may be measured using different metrics including efficiency, speed, or other metrics. Further, the movement may be through at least one of altitudes, orientations, speed, directions, or other parameters. For example, the illustrative embodiments recognize and take into account that it would be desirable to have a propeller with blades that can change characteristics such as length, width, and shape based on a group of parameters at which the propeller will operate. The group of parameters may be selected from at least one of altitude, temperature, rotation speed, motion speed, motion orientation, differential loading, energy efficiency, or other parameters relating to movement of the aircraft. The shape may include at least one of airfoil characteristics, chord size, camber and chordwise shape, thickness, or planform shape, spanwise taper, bending, twist, or other characteristics.

    [0014] As used herein, "a group of", when used with reference to items, means one or more items. For example, "a group of parameters" is one or more parameters.

    [0015] Thus, the illustrative embodiments provide a method and apparatus for changing the configuration of a propeller. In one illustrative example, the propeller is an inflatable propeller and comprises a hub and a group of inflatable blades. The group of inflatable blades each have an end associated with the hub. The group of inflatable blades is configured to have a group of aerodynamic functions that control movement of an aircraft at a number of different altitudes, wherein the group of aerodynamic functions is selected by a group of modes of inflation with a fluid. Movement may include at least one of forward direction or reverse direction in which speed and at least one of pitch, yaw, or roll changes may occur.

    [0016] Further, "a number of", when used with reference to items, means one or more items. For example, "a number of different altitudes" is one or more different altitudes.

    [0017] With reference now to the figures, and in particular, with reference to Figure 1, an illustration of an aircraft movement control environment is depicted in accordance with an illustrative embodiment. In aircraft movement control environment 100, aircraft 106 operates at a range of altitudes 104.

    [0018] In this illustrative example, aircraft 106 may take a number of different forms. For example, aircraft 106 may be selected from a group comprising a lighter-than-air aircraft, a heavier-than-air aircraft, a high-altitude long endurance (HALE) aircraft, a flying wing, an airship, a zeppelin, a blimp, or other suitable types of aircraft.

    [0019] As depicted, aircraft 106 has aircraft movement control system 102 that controls movement 108 of aircraft 106 through altitudes 104. Aircraft movement control system 102 includes a number of different components. In this illustrative example, aircraft movement control system 102 comprises inflatable propeller 110, inflation controller 112, and reservoir 114.

    [0020] Reservoir 114 is a structure that holds fluid 116 for use by inflation controller 112. As depicted, fluid 116 is selected from at least one of helium, hydrogen, neon, ammonia, methane, oxygen, air, nitrogen, or some other suitable type of fluid. Fluid 116 may be stored in liquid or gaseous form. In some illustrative examples, reservoir 114 may be unnecessary, such as when fluid 116 takes the form of air.

    [0021] As depicted, inflatable propeller 110 is an apparatus used to facilitate movement 108 of aircraft 106. Inflatable propeller 110 comprises hub 118 and inflatable blades 120.

    [0022] Hub 118 is a physical structure and is attached to a propulsion system (not shown) that may rotate hub 118 to cause inflatable propeller 110 to generate thrust, thus causing movement 108 of aircraft 106. Inflatable blades 120 each have an end associated with hub 118. In some illustrative examples, inflatable blades 120 may be connected at the tips, and outer loop, in addition to or in place of hub 118.

    [0023] The group of inflatable blades 120 is configured to have a group of aerodynamic functions 122 that control movement 108 of aircraft 106 at a number of different altitudes in altitudes 104. The group of aerodynamic functions 122 is selected by a group of modes of inflation 124 with fluid 116.

    [0024] Inflation controller 112 is configured to control fluid 116 in the group of inflatable blades 120. Inflation controller 112 may include a group of pumps or valves and a controller that controls the operation of the group of pumps.

    [0025] In the illustrative example, inflation controller 112 controls fluid 116 in the group of inflatable blades 120 by at least one of pumping fluid 116 into the group of inflatable blades 120 or out of the group of inflatable blades 120. Fluid 116 may be pumped into or out of one or more of the group of inflatable blades 120 independently from other blades in the group of inflatable blades 120. For example, inflation controller 112 may pump fluid 116 into one inflatable blade while pumping fluid 116 out of another inflatable blade in the group of inflatable blades 120. Pumping fluid may occur to control pressure inside the inflatable blade relative to the outside pressure (e.g., ambient static pressure) and is constrained by the inflatable blade membrane material elastic, strain, stiffness, and strength characteristics.

    [0026] Inflation controller 112 selects which ones of the group of aerodynamic functions 122 that are active through controlling fluid 116 in the group of inflatable blades 120. As depicted, the group of aerodynamic functions 122 that controls movement 108 is selected from at least one of propulsion 126, buoyancy 128, lift 130, or some other suitable type of aerodynamic function. The selection of an aerodynamic function in the group of aerodynamic functions 122 may be used to operate the aircraft in different modes. These modes include floating, orientation change, cruise, and dash.

    [0027] For example, Propulsion 126 comprises generating thrust when inflatable propeller 110 is operating (e.g., rotating). Changing the characteristics of group of inflatable blades 120 allows inflatable propeller 110 to change the amount of thrust generated. For example, the characteristics include a length and a shape of the group of inflatable blades 120. The change in the characteristics may be such that the group of inflatable blades 120 is more efficient at higher altitudes. For example, the length of the group of inflatable blades 120 may be increased. The change in shape may include changing the pitch of inflatable blades 120.

    [0028] The shape of inflatable blades 120 depends on different factors. For example, the factors include at least one of altitudes 104, air temperature, blade rotation speed, aircraft forward motion speed, aircraft motion orientation or maneuver, differential loading to cause a change in aircraft orientation or maneuvering rates, energy efficiency, optimize propeller performance at different altitudes, or other factors.

    [0029] Buoyancy 128 may be changed by varying a volume of inflatable blades 120. The volume of inflatable blades 120 may be increased to generate an upward force by inflatable propeller 110. For example, the upward force may contribute to lift 130 of aircraft 106. Buoyancy 128 may be decreased by decreasing the volume of the group of inflatable blades 120. Further, with lift 130, the group of inflatable blades 120 may have at least one of a shape or dimension that results in a force being exerted on the group of inflatable blades 120 in a direction substantially counter to the force of weight of the aircraft. In other words, the group of inflatable blades 120 may function in a fashion similar to a wing or some other type of airfoil used to provide lift 130 for aircraft 106. In this example, buoyancy 128 of fluid 116 is the fluid density within inflatable blades 120 relative to the outside air density at the altitude and temperature. The fluid density is defined by fluid type, temperature, and pressure. With enough pressure, the gas turns into a liquid. The possible pressure is dependent on the inflatable propeller bladder material characteristics, fabrication, and thickness. The inflatable blade material weight and hub material weight subtract from the fluid buoyancy forces to yield the overall buoyancy for inflatable propeller 110.

    [0030] As used herein, the phrase "at least one of", when used with a list of items, means different combinations of one or more of the listed items may be used, and only one of each item in the list may be needed. In other words, "at least one of" means any combination of items or number of items may be used from the list, but not all of the items in the list are required. The item may be a particular object, a thing, or a category.

    [0031] For example, without limitation, "at least one of item A, item B, or item C" may include item A, item A and item B, or item B. This example also may include item A, item B, and item C or item B and item C. Of course, any combinations of these items may be present. In some illustrative examples, "at least one of" may be, for example, without limitation, two of item A; one of item B; and ten of item C; four of item B and seven of item C; or other suitable combinations.

    [0032] In the illustrative example, propulsion 126 may include adjusting at least one of the pitch, chord, length, or some other characteristic of the group of inflatable blades 120. Buoyancy 128 may be selected from at least one of a negative buoyancy, a positive buoyancy, or a neutral buoyancy. For example, one inflatable blade may have a negative buoyancy while another inflatable blade may have a positive buoyancy.

    [0033] Thus, aircraft movement control system 102 provides a method and apparatus that overcome a technical problem with controlling movement 108 of aircraft 106 at different altitudes 104. The use of inflatable propeller 110 may provide one or more technical solutions to controlling movement 108 of aircraft 106. For example, the amount or pressure of fluid 116 in inflatable propeller 110 may be selected to provide desired aerodynamic functions 122 based on altitudes 104 at which aircraft 106 operates. For example, the group of inflatable blades 120 and inflatable propeller 110 may be configured to have different dimensions and shapes that provide a desired level of propulsion 126 or propulsion efficiency for altitudes and other flight or inflatable propeller conditions.

    [0034] Further, inflatable propeller 110 may provide a technical solution in which movement 108 may be controlled in a number of different ways other than propulsion 126. The configuration of inflatable propeller 110 may also provide aerodynamic functions 122 that include at least one of buoyancy 128 or lift 130, in addition to or in place of propulsion 126, depending on the particular implementation.

    [0035] With reference next to Figure 2, an illustration of a block diagram of an inflatable blade is depicted in accordance with an illustrative embodiment. In the illustrative examples, the same reference numeral may be used in more than one figure. This reuse of a reference numeral in different figures represents the same element in the different figures. As depicted, inflatable blade 200 is located in the group of inflatable blades 120 in Figure 1.

    [0036] In this illustrative example, inflatable blade 200 comprises inflatable outer structure 202 and fluid bladders 204 located within inflatable outer structure 202. Inflatable outer structure 202 is outer mold line 206 for inflatable blade 200. As depicted, the inflatable outer structure 202 and the fluid bladders 204 are selectively inflated with fluid 116 in Figure 1 to change at least one of shape 208 or dimensions 210 for inflatable outer structure 202.

    [0037] Shape 208 for inflatable outer structure 202 may be selected from one of a disk, a balloon, a wing, an elongated member, a cylinder, or some other suitable shape. As depicted, shape 208 has a group of dimensions 210 that may change. The group of dimensions 210 is selected from at least one of a length, a width, a radius, or some other suitable type of dimension.

    [0038] As depicted, shape 208 for inflatable outer structure 202 may be influenced by inflation of one or more of fluid bladders 204 inside of inflatable outer structure 202. Fluid bladders 204 have shapes selected from at least one of a rod, a sphere, a disk, or some other suitable type of shape.

    [0039] Further, shape 208 with the group of dimensions 210 may include chordwise shapes and spanwise shapes. Shape 208 may have a group of dimensions 210 that make inflatable blade 200, which include a thickness, a camber, a taper, a twist, an airfoil shape, a trailing shape, and a leading edge shape. The shapes may change dynamically during operation of inflatable blade 200 by changing the inflation of inflatable blade 200 with fluid 116 in Figure 1.

    [0040] In this illustrative example, fluid 116 in Figure 1 may be used to fill at least one of inflatable outer structure 202 or fluid bladders 204. In yet another example, fluid 116 may comprise first fluid 212 and second fluid 214, in which inflatable outer structure 202 is inflated with first fluid 212 and fluid bladders 204 are inflated with second fluid 214. As depicted, first fluid 212 and second fluid 214 may be the same type or different type of fluid. In yet another example, different ones of fluid bladders 204 may be inflated with different types of fluids.

    [0041] Further, inflatable blade 200 is comprised of material 216. Material 216 may be selected to change the shape of the group of inflatable blades 120 in Figure 1 based on the pressure of fluid 116. For example, material 216 may be present in inflatable blade 200, in at least one of inflatable outer structure 202 or fluid bladders 204. Material 216 may aid in or control changing at least one of shape 208 or dimensions 210 for at least one of inflatable outer structure 202 or fluid bladders 204.

    [0042] As depicted, material 216 may take a form selected from one of fibers, fabrics, threads, or other types of material in at least one of inflatable outer structure 202 or fluid bladders 204. In the illustrative examples, material 216 in inflatable outer structure 202 and fluid bladders 204 may be formed from a number of different types of structures. For example, material 216 may be selected from at least one of latex rubber, expanded polypropylene (EPP), a closed cell styrofoam foam that is semi-rigid and reinforced by inflatable interior components, mylar, polyethylene, a reinforced composite to add hoop strength, or other suitable types of material. Material 216 also may be comprised of at least one of a shape memory material (SMM), a shape memory alloy (SMA), or a shape memory polymer (SMP).

    [0043] In this illustrative example, inflatable blade 200 also includes base 218. Base 218 is physically associated with inflatable outer structure 202 and fluid bladders 204. When one component is "associated" with another component, the association is a physical association. For example, a first component, such as base 218, may be considered to be physically associated with a second component, such as inflatable outer structure 202, by at least one of being secured to the second component, bonded to the second component, mounted to the second component, welded to the second component, fastened to the second component, or connected to the second component in some other suitable manner. The first component also may be connected to the second component using a third component. The first component may also be considered to be physically associated with the second component by being formed as part of the second component, an extension of the second component, or both.

    [0044] As depicted, base 218 has channels 220. Channels 220 are connected to inflatable outer structure 202 and fluid bladders 204. In this illustrative example, inflatable outer structure 202 and each one of fluid bladders 204 may be connected to a corresponding channel in channels 220. In other words, each fluid bladder may be connected to a different channel in channels 220 from other fluid bladders in fluid bladders 204.

    [0045] Channels 220 allow first fluid 212 to flow into and out of inflatable outer structure 202. Additionally, channels 220 allow for second fluid 214 to flow into and out of one or more of fluid bladders 204.

    [0046] As a result, movement 108 in Figure 1 may be controlled by changing shape 208 during specific flight conditions. These flight conditions include at least one of altitude, density, aircraft speed, propeller speed, or other suitable flight conditions. Shape 208 may be maintained for an entire revolution of inflatable blades 120. As a result, improvements may occur in at least one of forward speed or thrust efficiency.

    [0047] In another example, at least one of shape 208 or dimensions 210 may be changed during rotation of inflatable blades 120. The change may change parameters such as twist of inflatable blades 120. This type of change may be useful for slower moving inflatable blades being used at high altitudes. In this manner, at least one of different lift or drag may occur depending on vertical and horizontal prop position, which results in asymmetric pitch, yaw, and roll forces depending on sequence, and controls aircraft movement, orientations and orientation rates.

    [0048] With the inflation of inflatable blade 200 using fluid 116 to change at least one of shape 208 or the group of dimensions 210, various characteristics of inflatable blade 200 may be selected and changed during the operation of aircraft 106 in Figure 1. For example, these characteristics may include at least one of weight, density, inertia, bending stiffness, or torsion stiffness of inflatable blade 200.

    [0049] The illustration of an aircraft movement control environment 100 and the different components in this environment in Figures 1-2 are not meant to imply physical or architectural limitations to the manner in which an illustrative embodiment may be implemented. Other components in addition to or in place of the ones illustrated may be used. Some components may be unnecessary. Also, the blocks are presented to illustrate some functional components. One or more of these blocks may be combined, divided, or combined and divided into different blocks when implemented in an illustrative embodiment.

    [0050] For example, in Figure 1, aircraft movement control system 102 for aircraft 106 may include one or more additional inflatable propellers in addition to inflatable propeller 110. In this illustrative example, inflatable propeller 110 may be a first inflatable propeller for aircraft 106. Hub 118 is a first hub and the group of inflatable blades 120 is a first group of inflatable blades.

    [0051] A second inflatable propeller may include a second hub in the second group of inflatable blades. The second group of inflatable blades has an end associated with the second hub. The second group of inflatable blades is configured to have the group of aerodynamic functions 122 that controls movement 108 of aircraft 106 at a number of different altitudes. Further, the group of aerodynamic functions 122 is selected by the group of modes of inflation 124 with fluid 116.

    [0052] For example, the first inflatable propeller made has a first buoyancy, while the second inflatable propeller may have a second buoyancy. The point may be different such that aircraft 106 may have an upward tilt or some other orientation during flight, such as moving from a lower altitude to a higher altitude. This upward tilt may provide increased lift for aircraft 106.

    [0053] Further, in another illustrative example, the first inflatable propeller and the second inflatable propeller may be positioned on the same coaxial axis. Also, when one of the inflatable propellers has more than one blade, not all of the blades for an inflatable propeller need to be inflated to the same pressure with fluid 116. Also, the first inflatable propeller may be filled with a different fluid from the second inflatable propeller. In yet another example, different blades within inflatable propeller 110 may be filled with different fluids from each other.

    [0054] With reference now to Figure 3, illustration of an aircraft with an aircraft movement control system is depicted in accordance with illustrative embodiment. As depicted, aircraft 300 is an example of one implementation for aircraft 106 in Figure 1.

    [0055] As depicted, aircraft 300 includes a movement control system 302 associated with airframe 304. Movement control system 302 is an example of one implementation for aircraft movement control system 102 in Figure 1. Movement control system 302 includes reservoir 306, inflation controller 308, inflatable propeller 310, inflatable propeller 312, inflatable propeller 314, inflatable propeller 316, and inflatable propeller 318. Inflatable propellers 310-318 are examples of an implementation for inflatable propeller 110 in Figure 1.

    [0056] With reference next to Figure 4, an illustration of an inflatable propeller is depicted in accordance with an illustrative embodiment. In this illustrative example, inflatable propeller 400 is an example of one physical implementation for inflatable propeller 110 shown in block form in Figure 1.

    [0057] As depicted, inflatable propeller 400 has hub 402, inflatable blade 404, and inflatable blade 406. In this example, inflatable blade 404 has length 408 and inflatable blade 406 has length 410 when inflated to a first level of inflation as shown in this figure. At this level of inflation, inflatable propeller 400 may be used at altitudes closer to the surface. These altitudes may be, for example, from sea level to about 2,000 feet or to about 8,000 feet.

    [0058] With reference now to Figure 5, an illustration of an inflatable propeller is depicted in accordance with an illustrative embodiment. As depicted in Figure 5, inflatable propeller 400 is inflated to a second level inflation. In this illustrative example, additional fluid has been pumped into inflatable blade 404 and inflatable blade 406. The additional fluid increases inflatable blade 404 to length 500 and inflatable blade 406 to length 502. Length 500 is greater than length 408 and length 502 is greater than length 410.

    [0059] In this configuration, inflatable propeller 400 is configured for use at higher altitudes. These altitudes may be altitudes used by high-altitude long endurance (HALE) aircraft. The altitudes may be, for example, 65,000 feet, 100,000 feet, or some other altitude.

    [0060] With reference next to Figure 6, an illustration of an inflatable blade that provides an aerodynamic function in the form of low altitude, higher speed operation for maximum thrust is depicted in accordance with an illustrative embodiment. In this depicted example, inflatable propeller 600 is an example of one implementation for inflatable propeller 110 in Figure 1.

    [0061] In this illustrative example, inflatable propeller 600 is configured to provide thrust as an aerodynamic function. Inflatable propeller 600 includes hub 602, inflatable blade 604, and inflatable blade 606. The amount of thrust is controlled by the shape of inflatable blade 604 and inflatable blade 606. For example, inflatable blade 604 and inflatable blade 606 have a shape of an airfoil, which generates thrust as inflatable blade 604 and inflatable blade 606 rotate. One or more physical characteristic of inflatable blade 604 and inflatable blade 606 may be varied to change the amount of thrust generated by inflatable propeller 600, such as, for example, a blade twist, a pitch angle, a diameter, a chord length, a span, and the like.

    [0062] The thrust generated by inflatable blade 604 and inflatable blade 606 may also be based on a speed of the aircraft (e.g., the velocity of the incoming airflow) and properties of the atmosphere, such as, for example, a density, a temperature, or a pressure of the ambient air. The properties of the atmosphere are different at different altitudes. For example, the density and pressure of the air decreases as altitude increases. Inflatable propeller 600 may vary one or more physical characteristics of inflatable blade 604 or inflatable blade 606 to compensate for the changes in density and pressure.

    [0063] Turning to Figure 7, an illustration of an inflatable propeller configured for buoyancy is depicted in accordance with an illustrative embodiment. As depicted in Figure 7, inflatable propeller 700 is shown inflated. In this illustrative example, inflatable propeller 700 is an example of one physical implementation for inflatable propeller 110 shown in block form in Figure 1. Inflatable propeller 700 includes hub 702, inflatable blade 704, and inflatable blade 706.

    [0064] In this illustrative example, fluid has been pumped into inflatable blade 704 and inflatable blade 706 such that inflatable blade 704 and inflatable blade 706 have a spherical shape. In this configuration, inflatable propeller 700 may be used to provide buoyancy for an aircraft.

    [0065] Inflatable propeller 700 may provide an increase in buoyancy relative to inflatable propeller 400 shown in Figure 4. Inflatable blade 704 and inflatable blade 706 shown in Figure 7 have a greater volume than inflatable blade 404 and inflatable blade 406 shown in Figure 4. The volume of the fluid in inflatable blade 704 and inflatable blade 706 may be such that inflatable propeller 700 generates an upward or buoyant force to cause inflatable propeller 700 to become positively buoyant. The buoyant force may contribute to lift 130 of aircraft 106 as seen in Figure 1.

    [0066] With reference next to Figure 8, an illustration of an inflatable blade for an inflatable propeller is depicted in accordance with an illustrative embodiment. Inflatable blade 800 is an example of one implementation for an inflatable blade in inflatable blades 120 in Figure 1 and is shown in an exposed view.

    [0067] As depicted, inflatable blade 800 comprises a number of different components. For example, inflatable blade 800 includes connecting structure 802 and inflatable outer structure 804.

    [0068] In this exposed view of inflatable blade 800, various structures inside of inflatable outer structure 804 are shown. For example, structures such as channel 806 and fluid bladders 808 are seen in this exposed view within inflatable outer structure 804. Optionally, the structures may include more or fewer channels such as channel 806.

    [0069] Connecting structure 802 is configured to be connected to a hub. In this example, channel 806 provides a mechanism to move a fluid in and out of at least one of inflatable outer structure 804 or fluid bladders 808. Inflatable outer structure 804 forms an outer mold line of inflatable blade 800.

    [0070] Fluid bladders 808 are located inside of inflatable outer structure 804. In this example, fluid bladders 808 are examples of implementations of fluid bladders 204 in Figure 2. As depicted, fluid bladders 808 include fluid bladder 810, fluid bladder 812, fluid bladder 814, fluid bladder 816, and fluid bladder 818.

    [0071] As depicted, inflatable outer structure 804 is inflatable and may change shape or dimension based on at least one of the inflation of inflatable outer structure 804 or the inflation of fluid bladders 808.

    [0072] With reference next to Figure 9, an illustration of a portion of an inflatable blade is depicted in accordance with an illustrative embodiment. In this example, inflatable outer structure 804 has been inflated with a fluid. Further, fluid bladder 814 in fluid bladders 808 has also been inflated with a fluid. The fluid in inflatable outer structure 804 may be the same or different from the fluid in fluid bladder 814. Further each of fluid bladders 808 may be the same or different type of fluid depending on the implementation. The inflation of inflatable outer structure 804 and fluid bladder 814 causes inflatable blade 800 to extend in length.

    [0073] As depicted, inflatable outer structure 804 may be inflated using a fluid for two or more different levels of inflation. The different levels of inflation are used to control the shape and dimensions of inflatable outer structure 804.

    [0074] Further, fluid bladders 808 may be inflated using a fluid, separately or in conjunction, with the inflation of inflatable outer structure 804. This inflation may be used to further control the shape and dimensions of inflatable blade 800.

    [0075] The illustrations of inflatable blade 800 and the fluid bladders in Figures 8-9 are provided for purposes of illustrating one physical implementation of inflatable blade 200 shown in block form in Figure 2. This illustration is not meant to limit the manner in which other inflatable blades may be implemented. For example, other numbers or types of fluid bladders may be located within the inflatable outer structures for other blades.

    [0076] Turning next to Figures 10-14, illustrations of changing the shape of an inflatable blade through the blade to different pressures are depicted in accordance with an illustrative embodiment. With reference first to Figure 10, an illustration of an inflatable blade in an uninflated state is depicted in accordance with an illustrative embodiment. Inflatable blade 1000 is an example of one physical implementation for an inflatable blade in inflatable blades 120 of inflatable propeller 110 shown in block form in Figure 1. In this figure, inflatable blade 1000 is shown rolled up in the uninflated state. Inflatable blade 1000 is coiled in an aft direction that is opposite a direction of travel of the aircraft indicated by direction D. In the uninflated state, inflatable blade 1000 may have a reduced drag profile relative to an inflated state. In other words, inflatable propeller 110 is feathered to substantially reduce drag generated by inflatable blade 1000 as the aircraft travels in direction D.

    [0077] Turning next to Figure 11, an illustration of an inflatable blade in a partially inflated state is depicted in accordance with an illustrative embodiment. As depicted, fluid is sent into inflatable blade 1000. As the fluid enters inflatable blade 1000, inflatable blade 1000 unrolls for deployment. In this illustrative example, the fluid may take various forms. For example, the fluid may be air, helium, hydrogen, or some combination thereof.

    [0078] In Figure 12, an illustration of an inflatable blade inflated to a first pressure is depicted in accordance with an illustrative embodiment. At the first pressure, inflatable blade 1000 may provide thrust for moving an aircraft. This movement of the aircraft may include moving in a particular direction, changing orientation, or other types of movement.

    [0079] At the first pressure, inflatable blade 1000 has first length 1002. First length 1002 may be preselected such that inflatable blade 1000 provides thrust for a low altitude range. In other words, first length 1002 may be selected such that the inflatable propeller 110 of Figure 1 operates at a first altitude range, which is suitable for a take-off phase of flight. For example, the first altitude range may be on ground, sea level, between sea level and 1,000 feet, or any other suitable altitude.

    [0080] Turning now to Figure 13, an illustration of an inflatable blade inflated to a second pressure is depicted in accordance with an illustrative embodiment. In this example, the second pressure in inflatable blade 1000 is greater than the first pressure. The second pressure may cause inflatable blade 1000 to increase in volume as compared to the first pressure. With the second pressure, the shape of inflatable blade 1000 may change to have a chord and span having increased pitch and twist as compared to inflatable blade 1000 as shown in Figure 12.

    [0081] At the second pressure, inflatable blade 1000 has second length 1004. Second length 1004 is greater than first length 1002 shown in Figure 12. Second length 1004 may be preselected such that inflatable blade 1000 provides thrust at a second altitude range that is greater than the first altitude range. Second length 1004 may be preselected to provide thrust at a mid-altitude range. For example, second length 1004 may be selected such that inflatable propeller 110 operates at a climb phase of flight. For example, the second altitude range may be between 1,000 feet to 30,000 feet or more, or any other suitable altitude.

    [0082] Optionally, the second pressure may cause inflatable blade 1000 to change shape in addition to or in place of the change in length. For example, the second pressure may cause inflatable blade 1000 to change in one or more of an airfoil characteristic, chord size, camber and chordwise shape, thickness, or planform shape, spanwise taper, bending, twist, or other characteristic.

    [0083] With reference to Figure 14, another illustration of an inflatable blade inflated to a third pressure is depicted in accordance with an illustrative embodiment. The third pressure in inflatable blade 1000 is greater than the second pressure. With this level of inflation, the shape of inflatable blade 1000 may change from the shape show in Figure 12. For example, the orientation of the chord and span may change.

    [0084] At the third pressure, inflatable blade 1000 has third length 1006. Third length 1006 is greater than first length 1002 and second length 1004. Third length 1006 may be preselected such that inflatable blade 1000 provides thrust at a third altitude range that is greater than the first altitude range and the second altitude range. The third altitude range may be preselected to provide thrust at a high altitude. For example, third length 1006 may be selected such that inflatable propeller 110 shown in Figure 1, operates at a cruise phase of flight. For example, the third altitude range may be between 30,000 feet to 90,000 feet or more, or any other suitable altitude range.

    [0085] As depicted, inflatable blade 1000 has different shapes at different pressures. These different shapes result from characteristics of the materials used to form inflatable blade 1000. Inflatable blade 1000 may have an inflatable outer structure that forms the outer mold line. Further, inflatable blade 1000 also may include one or more fluid bladders within the inflatable outer structure.

    [0086] In the illustrative example, the materials used in inflatable blade 1000 may have characteristics that change based on the pressure of inflation. These characteristics may be selected based on the thickness of materials, reinforcement materials, type of materials, shape of fluid bladders, the number of fluid bladders, or other suitable design parameters. In this manner, inflatable blade 1000 may change in at least one of span, court, twist, pitch, camber, or other characteristic.

    [0087] The illustration of inflatable blade 1000 in Figures 10-14 are presented for purposes of illustrating one implementation for inflatable blades 120 shown in block form in Figure 1. These illustrations are not meant to limit the manner in which other inflatable blades may be implemented. For example, other inflatable blades may have other pressures other than the three pressures shown for the three different shapes in Figures 10-14. For example, inflatable blade 1000 may have only a single pressure, five pressures, or some other number of pressures for changing the shape of inflatable blade 1000.

    [0088] With reference to Figure 15, an illustration of an inflatable blade that provides an aerodynamic function in the form of differential thrust is depicted in accordance with an illustrative embodiment. As used herein, differential thrust may be referred to as a cyclic thrust. As shown, inflatable propeller 1500 is an example of one physical implementation for inflatable propeller 110 shown in block form in Figure 1.

    [0089] In this illustrative example, inflatable propeller 1500 is configured to provide differential thrust as an aerodynamic function. Inflatable propeller 1500 includes hub 1502, inflatable blade 1504 and inflatable blade 1506. Differential thrust is provided by the varying the shape of inflatable blade 1504 and inflatable blade 1506 as inflatable blade 1504 and inflatable blade 1506 rotate. Differential thrust, as used herein, refers to varying an amount of thrust generated by the blades as the blades rotate. In other words, the amount of thrust generated may be based on a change in aerodynamic function during a single rotation of a blade. For example, an amount of pitch may be varied as the blade rotates from zero to 360 degrees.

    [0090] As depicted, inflatable blade 1504 and inflatable blade 1506 are inflated with a fluid to different pressures such that the shapes of the blades are different from each other in this illustrative example. In this particular example, if inflatable blade 1504 and inflatable blade 1506 are inflated to the same pressure, the inflatable blades would have the same shape. Further, other pressures may be used to change the shape of the inflatable blades to other shapes for other functions.

    [0091] As depicted, inflatable blade 1504 provides a higher level thrust than inflatable blade 1506. In this manner, asymmetric thrust may be generated using inflatable propeller 1500. In this manner, a change in pitch or yaw of the aircraft may be made to change the position of an aircraft using inflatable propeller 1500.

    [0092] Turning now to Figure 16, another illustration of asymmetric propeller with inflatable blades is depicted in accordance with an illustrative embodiment. In this example, the pressure of inflatable blade 1504 and inflatable blade 1506 may change during operation of inflatable propeller 1500.

    [0093] In this illustrative example, inflatable propeller 1500 has rotated in the direction of arrow 1600. Further, the pressure of inflatable blade 1504 has been reduced and the pressure of inflatable blade 1506 has been increased in pressure. Now, inflatable blade 1506 provides more thrust than inflatable blade 1506. In this manner, thrust may be generated in a particular direction to change the pitch or yaw of the aircraft. This change and other changes may be used to control movement of an aircraft in which the movement may include controlling at least one of the orientation, direction, acceleration, speed, or other movement of the aircraft.

    [0094] Turning now to Figure 17, an illustration of another inflatable propeller with three inflatable blades is depicted in accordance with an illustrative embodiment. In this illustrative example, inflatable propeller 1700 is an example of one physical implementation for inflatable propeller 110 shown in block form in Figure 1.

    [0095] As depicted, inflatable propeller 1700 has hub 1702, inflatable blade 1704, inflatable blade 1706, and inflatable blade 1708, which are examples of an implementation for a group of inflatable blades 120 shown in block form in Figure 1. As depicted, inflatable blade 1704, inflatable blade 1706, and inflatable blade 1708 may be implemented to include functions as describe with respect to inflatable blade 200 shown in block form in Figure 2.

    [0096] With reference next to Figure 18, an illustration of an inflatable propeller with six inflatable blades is depicted in accordance with an illustrative embodiment. In this illustrative example, inflatable propeller 1800 is an example of yet another physical implementation for inflatable propeller 110 shown in block form in Figure 1.

    [0097] As depicted, inflatable propeller 1800 has hub 1802, inflatable blade 1804, inflatable blade 1806, inflatable blade 1808, inflatable blade 1810, inflatable blade 1812, and inflatable blade 1814. These six inflatable blades are examples of an implementation for the group of inflatable blades 120 shown in block form in Figure 1. As depicted, inflatable blade 1804, inflatable blade 1806, inflatable blade 1808, inflatable blade 1810, inflatable blade 1812, and inflatable blade 1814 may be implemented to include functions as describe with respect to inflatable blade 200 shown in block form in Figure 2.

    [0098] The illustrations of inflatable propeller 400 in Figures 4-18 are provided for the purpose of showing different physical implementations for inflatable propeller 110 shown in block form in Figure 1. These illustrations are not meant to limit the manner in which other illustrative embodiments may be implemented.

    [0099] For example, inflatable propeller 400 in Figure 4 is illustrated as having two inflatable blades, inflatable blade 404 and inflatable blade 406. Other inflatable propellers may have other numbers of inflatable blades. For example, another inflatable propeller may have one inflatable blade, four inflatable blades, nine inflatable blades, or some other number of inflatable blades.

    [0100] As another example, in other illustrative examples, the blades may also change inflation or other characteristics for the blades other than those shown in Figures 4-18. For example, other characteristics include at least one of spanwise twist, camber, spanwise curvature, or other suitable characteristics.

    [0101] Turning next to Figure 19, an illustration of a flowchart of a process for controlling movement of an aircraft is depicted in accordance with an illustrative embodiment. The process illustrated in Figure 19 may be implemented using aircraft movement control system 102 to control movement 108 of aircraft 106 in Figure 1.

    [0102] The process begins by identifying an aerodynamic function desired for controlling movement of an aircraft at a particular altitude (operation 1900). The aerodynamic function identified in operation 1900 is part of a group of aerodynamic functions used to control the movement of the aircraft at a number of different altitudes. The group of aerodynamic functions may include, for example, propulsion, buoyancy, lift, or other types of functions that may be used to control the movement of the aircraft.

    [0103] The process fills a group of inflatable blades with a fluid to a pressure that corresponds to the aerodynamic function (operation 1902). The fluid in the group of inflatable blades results in a pressure being present in the group of inflatable blades. The group of inflatable blades at the pressure has a shape and a group of dimensions that provide the aerodynamic function.

    [0104] The process then determines whether a new aerodynamic function is desired (operation 1904). If a new aerodynamic function is desired, the process changes the fluid in the group of inflatable blades such that the group of inflatable blades at a new pressure has at least one of a new shape or a new group of dimensions (operation 1906). The process then returns to operation 1904. The group of inflatable blades with at least one of a new shape or a new group of dimensions provides the new aerodynamic function.

    [0105] With reference again to operation 1904, if a new aerodynamic function is not desired, the process returns to operation 1904 during operation of the inflatable propeller. In this manner, the inflatable propeller may perform a number of different types of functions to control the movement of the aircraft. These functions may include additional functions in addition to propulsion. The additional functions may include, for example, buoyancy or lift.

    [0106] The flowcharts and block diagrams in the different depicted embodiments illustrate the architecture, functionality, and operation of some possible implementations of apparatuses and methods in an illustrative embodiment. In this regard, each block in the flowcharts or block diagrams may represent at least one of a module, a segment, a function, or a portion of an operation or step. For example, one or more of the blocks may be implemented as program code, hardware, or a combination of the program code and hardware. When implemented in hardware, the hardware may, for example, take the form of integrated circuits that are manufactured or configured to perform one or more operations in the flowcharts or block diagrams. When implemented as a combination of program code and hardware, the implementation may take the form of firmware. Each block in the flowcharts or the block diagrams may be implemented using special purpose hardware systems that perform the different operations or combinations of special purpose hardware and program code run by the special purpose hardware.

    [0107] In some alternative implementations of an illustrative embodiment, the function or functions noted in the blocks may occur out of the order noted in the figures. For example, in some cases, two blocks shown in succession may be performed concurrently, or the blocks may sometimes be performed in the reverse order, depending upon the functionality involved. Also, other blocks may be added in addition to the illustrated blocks in a flowchart or block diagram.

    [0108] The illustrative embodiments of the present disclosure may be described in the context of aircraft manufacturing and service method 2000 as shown in Figure 20 and aircraft 2100 as shown in Figure 21. Turning first to Figure 20, an illustration of an aircraft manufacturing and service method is depicted in accordance with an illustrative embodiment. During pre-production, aircraft manufacturing and service method 2000 may include specification and design 2002 of aircraft 2100 in Figure 21 and material procurement 2004.

    [0109] During production, component and subassembly manufacturing 2006 and system integration 2008 of aircraft 2100 in Figure 21 take place. Thereafter, aircraft 2100 may go through certification and delivery 2010 in order to be placed in service 2012. While in service 2012 by a customer, aircraft 2100 is scheduled for routine maintenance and service 2014, which may include modification, reconfiguration, refurbishment, and other maintenance or service.

    [0110] Each of the processes of aircraft manufacturing and service method 2000 may be performed or carried out by a system integrator, a third party, an operator, or some combination thereof. In these examples, the operator may be a customer. For the purposes of this description, a system integrator may include, without limitation, any number of aircraft manufacturers and major-system subcontractors; a third party may include, without limitation, any number of vendors, subcontractors, and suppliers; and an operator may be an airline, a leasing company, a military entity, a service organization, and so on.

    [0111] With reference now to Figure 21, an illustration of an aircraft is depicted in which an illustrative embodiment may be implemented. In this example, aircraft 2100 is produced by aircraft manufacturing and service method 2000 in Figure 20 and may include airframe 2102 with a plurality of systems 2104 and interior 2106. Examples of systems 2104 include one or more of propulsion system 2108, electrical system 2110, hydraulic system 2112, and environmental system 2114. Any number of other systems may be included. Although an aerospace example is shown, different illustrative embodiments may be applied to other industries, such as the automotive industry. The apparatuses and methods embodied herein may be employed during at least one of the stages of aircraft manufacturing and service method 2000 in Figure 20.

    [0112] In one illustrative example, components or subassemblies produced in component and subassembly manufacturing 2006 in Figure 20 for an aircraft movement control system, including an inflatable propeller, may be fabricated or manufactured in a manner similar to components or subassemblies produced while aircraft 2100 is in service 2012 in Figure 20. As yet another example, one or more apparatus embodiments, method embodiments, or a combination thereof may be utilized during production stages, such as component and subassembly manufacturing 2006 and system integration 2008 in Figure 20. One or more apparatus embodiments, method embodiments, or a combination thereof may be utilized while aircraft 2100 is in service 2012, during maintenance and service 2014 in Figure 20, or both. For example, the inflatable propeller may be used during in service 2012 to control movement of aircraft 2100.

    [0113] Thus, the illustrative embodiments provide a method and apparatus for controlling movement of an aircraft. Thus, an aircraft movement control system may provide a method and apparatus that overcome a technical problem with controlling the movement of the aircraft at different altitudes. The use of an inflatable propeller may provide one or more technical solutions to controlling the movement of the aircraft in a manner not available using currently available propellers. For example, a fluid in the inflatable propeller may be controlled to provide desired aerodynamic functions based on the altitudes at which the aircraft operates.

    [0114] For example, a group of inflatable blades for the inflatable propeller may be configured to have at least one of a different length or different dimensions that provide a desired level of propulsion for certain altitudes. Further, the inflatable propeller in the illustrative examples provides a technical solution in which the movement of the aircraft may be controlled in a number of different ways other than through propulsion. The configuration of the inflatable propeller may also be controlled to provide aerodynamic functions that include at least one of buoyancy or lift in addition to or in place of propulsion for the aircraft, depending on the particular implementation. Currently available propellers do not provide these types of functions.

    [0115] The description of the different illustrative embodiments has been presented for purposes of illustration and description and is not intended to be exhaustive or limited to the embodiments in the form disclosed. The different illustrative examples describe components that perform actions or operations. In an illustrative embodiment, a component may be configured to perform the action or operation described. For example, the component may have a configuration or design for a structure that provides the component an ability to perform the action or operation that is described in the illustrative examples as being performed by the component.


    Claims

    1. An apparatus (110) comprising:

    a hub (118); and

    a group of inflatable blades (120) in which each of the blades (120) has an end associated with the hub (118), wherein the group of inflatable blades (120) is configured to have a group of aerodynamic functions (122) that control movement of an aircraft (106) at a number of different altitudes (104), wherein the group of aerodynamic functions (122) is selected by a group of modes of inflation (124) with a fluid (116);

    wherein an inflatable blade (200) in the group of inflatable blades (120) comprises:

    an inflatable outer structure (202) that is an outer mold line (206) for the inflatable blade (200); and

    fluid bladders (204) within the inflatable outer structure (202), charaterized in that the inflatable outer structure and the fluid bladders (204) are each configured to be selectively inflated to change at least one of a shape (208) or a group of dimensions (210) for the inflatable outer structure (202).


     
    2. The apparatus (110) of claim 1, further comprising:
    an inflation controller (112) configured to control the fluid (116) in the group of inflatable blades (120).
     
    3. The apparatus (110) of claim 1 or claim 2, wherein the group of aerodynamic functions (122) that controls the movement is selected from at least one of propulsion (126), buoyancy (128), or lift (130).
     
    4. The apparatus (110) of any of claims 1 to 3, wherein the fluid (116) is a first fluid (212) and, wherein the apparatus is configured to inflate the inflatable outer structure (202) with the first fluid (212) and configured to inflate the fluid bladders (204) with a second fluid (214).
     
    5. The apparatus (110) of any of claims 1 to 4, wherein the fluid bladders (204) have the shape (208) selected from at least one of a rod, a sphere, or a disk.
     
    6. The apparatus (110) of any of claims 1 to 3, wherein the hub (118) is a first hub and the group of inflatable blades (120) is a first group of inflatable blades and further comprising:

    a second hub; and

    a second group of inflatable blades in which the group of blades (120) has the end associated with the second hub, wherein the second group of inflatable blades is configured to have the group of aerodynamic functions (122) that controls the movement of the aircraft (106) at the number of different altitudes (104), wherein the group of aerodynamic functions (122) is selected by the group of modes of inflation (124) with the fluid (116).


     
    7. The apparatus (110) of any of claims 1 to 3 or of claim 6, wherein the fluid (116) is one of helium, hydrogen, neon, ammonia, methane, oxygen, air, or nitrogen.
     
    8. The apparatus (110) of any of claims 1 to 3 or of claim 6 or 7, wherein the group of inflatable blades (120) is comprised of a material (216) that changes a shape (208) of the group of inflatable blades (120) based on a pressure of the fluid (116).
     
    9. The apparatus (110) of claim 8, wherein the material (216) is comprised of at least one of a shape memory material (SMM), a shape memory alloy (SMA), or a shape memory polymer (SMP).
     
    10. The apparatus (110) of any of claims 1 to 4 or any of claims 6 to 8, wherein the aircraft (106) is selected from one of a lighter-than-air aircraft, a heavier-than-air aircraft, high-altitude long endurance (HALE) aircraft, a flying wing, an airship, a zeppelin, or a blimp.
     
    11. A method for controlling movement of an aircraft (106), the method comprising:

    Identifying (1900) an aerodynamic function (122) desired for controlling the movement (108) of the aircraft (106) at a particular altitude, wherein the aerodynamic function identified is part of a group of aerodynamic functions (122) used to control the movement of the aircraft (106) at a number of different altitudes (104); and

    Filling (1902) a group of inflatable blades (120) with a fluid (116) to a pressure that corresponds to the aerodynamic function, wherein the group of inflatable blades (120) at the pressure has a shape (208) and a group of dimensions (210) that provide the aerodynamic function;

    wherein an inflatable blade (200) in the group of inflatable blades (120) comprises:

    an inflatable outer structure (202) that is an outer mold line (206) for the inflatable blade (200); and

    fluid bladders (204) within the inflatable outer structure (202), wherein the inflatable outer structure and the fluid bladders (204) are selectively inflated to change at least one of the shape (208) or the group of dimensions (210) for the inflatable outer structure (202).


     
    12. The method of claim 11, wherein the group of aerodynamic functions (122) that controls the movement is selected from one of propulsion (126), buoyancy (128), or lift (130).
     
    13. The method of claim 11 or 12, wherein the group of inflatable blades (120) is comprised of a material (216) that causes changes to the shape (208) of the group of inflatable blades (120) based on the pressure of the fluid (116).
     


    Ansprüche

    1. Vorrichtung (110) mit:

    einer Nabe (118); und

    einer Gruppe von aufblasbaren Schaufeln (120), in denen jede der Schaufeln (120) ein Ende aufweist, das der Nabe (118) zugeordnet ist, wobei die Gruppe von aufblasbaren Schaufeln (120) dazu konfiguriert ist, eine Gruppe von aerodynamischen Funktionen (122) aufzuweisen, die eine Bewegung eines Luftfahrzeugs (106) in einer Anzahl von verschiedenen Höhen (104) steuern, wobei die Gruppe von aerodynamischen Funktionen (122) durch eine Gruppe von Aufblasarten (124) mit einem Fluid (116) gewählt ist;

    wobei eine aufblasbare Schaufel (200) in der Gruppe von aufblasbaren Schaufeln (120) aufweist: eine aufblasbare äußere Struktur (202), die eine äußere Formlinie (206) für die aufblasbare Schaufel (200) ist; und

    Fluidblasen (204) innerhalb der aufblasbaren äußeren Struktur (202), dadurch gekennzeichnet, dass die aufblasbare äußere Struktur und die Fluidblasen (204) jeweils dazu konfiguriert sind, wahlweise aufgeblasen zu werden, um zumindest eines von einer Form (208) oder einer Gruppe von Dimensionen (210) für die aufblasbare äußere Struktur (202) zu ändern.


     
    2. Vorrichtung (110) nach Anspruch 1, des Weiteren mit:
    einer Aufblassteuerung (112), die dazu konfiguriert ist, das Fluid (116) in der Gruppe von aufblasbaren Schaufeln (120) zu steuern.
     
    3. Vorrichtung (110) nach Anspruch 1 oder Anspruch 2, wobei die Gruppe von aerodynamischen Funktionen (122), die die Bewegung steuert, ausgewählt ist von zumindest einem von Vortrieb (126), Auftrieb (128) oder Ansteigen (130).
     
    4. Vorrichtung (110) nach einem der Ansprüche 1 bis 3, wobei das Fluid (212) ein erstes Fluid (212) ist, und wobei die Vorrichtung dazu konfiguriert ist, die aufblasbare äußere Struktur (202) mit dem ersten Fluid (212) aufzublasen und dazu konfiguriert ist, die Fluidblasen (204) mit einem zweiten Fluid (214) aufzublasen.
     
    5. Vorrichtung (110) nach einem der Ansprüche 1 bis 4, wobei die Fluidblasen (204) die Form (208) ausgewählt aus zumindest einem von einem Stab, einer Kugel oder einer Scheibe aufweisen.
     
    6. Vorrichtung (110) nach einem der Ansprüche 1 bis 3, wobei die Nabe (118) eine erste Nabe ist und die Gruppe von aufblasbaren Schaufeln (120) eine erste Gruppe von aufblasbaren Schaufeln ist und des Weiteren aufweist:

    eine zweite Nabe; und

    eine zweite Gruppe von aufblasbaren Schaufeln in der die Gruppe von Schaufeln (120) das Ende der zweiten Nabe zuordnet, aufweist, wobei die zweite Gruppe von aufblasbaren Schaufeln dazu konfiguriert ist, die Gruppe von aerodynamischen Funktionen (122) auszuweisen, die die Bewegung des Luftfahrzeugs (106) in der Anzahl von verschiedenen Höhen (104) steuert, wobei die Gruppe von aerodynamischen Funktionen (122) ausgewählt ist durch die Gruppe Aufblasarten (124) mit dem Fluid (116).


     
    7. Vorrichtung (110) nach einem der Ansprüche 1 bis 3 oder nach Anspruch 6, wobei das Fluid (116) eines von Helium, Wasserstoff, Neon, Ammoniak, Methan, Sauerstoff, Luft oder Stickstoff ist.
     
    8. Vorrichtung (110) nach einem der Ansprüche 1 bis 3 oder nach Anspruch 6 oder 7, wobei die Gruppe von aufblasbaren Schaufeln (120) aus einem Material (216) aufgewiesen ist, das eine Form (208) der Gruppe von aufblasbaren Schaufeln (120) basierend auf einem Druck des Fluids (116) ändert.
     
    9. Vorrichtung (110) nach Anspruch 8, wobei das Material (216) aus zumindest einen von einer Formgedächtnismaterial (SMM), einer Formgedächtnislegierung (SMA) oder einem Formgedächtnispolymer (SMP) hergestellt ist.
     
    10. Vorrichtung (110) nach einem der Ansprüche 1 bis 4 oder nach einem der Ansprüche 6 bis 8, wobei das Luftfahrzeug (106) ausgewählt ist von einem leichter als Luft-Luftfahrzeug, einem schwerer als Luft-Luftfahrzeug, einem Große-Höhen-Langehaltbarkeit (HALE)-Luftfahrzeug, einem fliegenden Flügel, einem Luftschiff, einem Zeppelin oder einem nicht-steifen Luftschiff.
     
    11. Verfahren zum Steuern einer Bewegung eines Luftfahrzeugs (106), wobei das Verfahren aufweist:

    Identifizieren (1900) einer aerodynamischen Funktion (122), die zum Steuern der Bewegung (108) des Luftfahrzeugs (106) an einer bestimmten Höhe gewünscht ist, wobei die aerodynamische Funktion identifiziert ist als ein Teil einer Gruppe von aerodynamischen Funktionen (122) die dazu genutzt werden, die Bewegung des Luftfahrzeugs (106) in einer Anzahl von verschiedenen Höhen (104) zu steuern; und

    Füllen (1902) einer Gruppe von aufblasbaren Schaufeln (120) mit einem Fluid (116) auf einen Druck der der aerodynamischen Funktion entspricht, wobei die Gruppe von aufblasbaren Schaufeln (120) bei dem Druck einer Form (208) aufweist und einer Gruppe von Dimensionen (210) aufweist, die die aerodynamische Funktion bereitstellen; wobei eine aufblasbare Schaufel (200) in der Gruppe von aufblasbaren Schaufeln (120) aufweist:

    eine aufblasbare äußere Struktur (202), die eine äußere Formlinie (206) für die aufblasbare Schaufel (200) ist; und

    Fluidblasen (204) innerhalb der aufblasbaren äußeren Struktur (202), wobei die aufblasbare äußere Struktur und die Fluidblasen (204) selektiv aufgeblasen werden, um zumindest eines von der Form (208) oder der Gruppe von Dimensionen (210) für die aufblasbare äußere Struktur (202) zu ändern.


     
    12. Verfahren nach Anspruch 11, wobei die Gruppe von aerodynamischen Funktionen (122), die die Bewegung steuert, ausgewählt ist von einem von Vortrieb (126), Auftrieb (128) oder Ansteigen (130).
     
    13. Verfahren nach Anspruch 11 oder 12, wobei die Gruppe von aufblasbaren Schaufeln (120) hergestellt ist aus einem Material (216), das Änderungen der Form (208) der Gruppe von aufblasbaren Schaufeln (120) basierend auf de Druck des Fluids (116) bewirkt.
     


    Revendications

    1. Appareil (110) comportant :

    un moyeu (118) ; et

    un groupe de pales gonflables (120) dans lequel chacune des pales (120) présente une extrémité associée au moyeu (118), le groupe de pales gonflables (120) étant configuré pour posséder un groupe de fonctions aérodynamiques (122) qui commandent le mouvement d'un aéronef (106) à une multiplicité d'altitudes (104) différentes, le groupe de fonctions aérodynamiques (122) étant sélectionné par un groupe de modes de gonflage (124) avec un fluide (116) ;

    une pale gonflable (200) dans le groupe de pales gonflables (120) comportant une structure extérieure gonflable (202) qui est une ligne extérieure (206) de moule pour la pale gonflable (200) ; et

    des poches (204) à fluide à l'intérieur de la structure extérieure gonflable (202),

    caractérisées en ce que la structure extérieure gonflable et les poches (204) à fluide sont configurées chacune pour être sélectivement gonflées afin de modifier une forme (208) et/ou un groupe de dimensions (210) de la structure extérieure gonflable (202).


     
    2. Appareil (110) selon la revendication 1, comportant en outre :
    un moyen (112) de commande de gonflage configuré pour commander le fluide (116) dans le groupe de pales gonflables (120).
     
    3. Appareil (110) selon la revendication 1 ou la revendication 2, le groupe de fonctions aérodynamiques (122) qui commande le mouvement étant sélectionné parmi la propulsion (126), la poussée aérostatique (128) et/ou la portance (130).
     
    4. Appareil (110) selon l'une quelconque des revendications 1 à 3, le fluide (116) étant un premier fluide (212) et l'appareil étant configuré pour gonfler la structure extérieure gonflable (202) avec le premier fluide (212) et configuré pour gonfler les poches (204) à fluide avec un deuxième fluide (214).
     
    5. Appareil (110) selon l'une quelconque des revendications 1 à 4, les poches (204) à fluide présentant une forme (208) sélectionnée parmi une barre, une sphère et/ou un disque.
     
    6. Appareil (110) selon l'une quelconque des revendications 1 à 3, le moyeu (118) étant un premier moyeu et le groupe de pales gonflables (120) étant un premier groupe de pales gonflables et comportant en outre :

    un deuxième moyeu ; et

    un deuxième groupe de pales gonflables dans lequel le groupe de pales (120) présente l'extrémité associée au deuxième moyeu, le deuxième groupe de pales gonflables étant configuré pour posséder le groupe de fonctions aérodynamiques (122) qui commande le mouvement de l'aéronef (106) à la multiplicité d'altitudes (104) différentes, le groupe de fonctions aérodynamiques (122) étant sélectionné par le groupe de modes de gonflage (124) avec le fluide (116).


     
    7. Appareil (110) selon l'une quelconque des revendications 1 à 3 ou la revendication 6, le fluide (116) étant un fluide parmi l'hélium, l'hydrogène, le néon, l'ammoniac, le méthane, l'oxygène, l'air et l'azote.
     
    8. Appareil (110) selon l'une quelconque des revendications 1 à 3 ou des revendications 6 et 7, le groupe de pales gonflables (120) étant constitué d'un matériau (216) qui modifie une forme (208) du groupe de pales gonflables (120) selon une pression du fluide (116).
     
    9. Appareil (110) selon la revendication 8, le matériau (216) étant constitué d'un matériau à mémoire de forme (SMM), d'un alliage à mémoire de forme (SMA) et/ou d'un polymère à mémoire de forme (SMP).
     
    10. Appareil (110) selon l'une quelconque des revendications 1 à 4 ou des revendications 6 à 8, l'aéronef (106) étant sélectionné parmi un aéronef plus léger que l'air, un aéronef plus lourd que l'air, un aéronef à haute altitude et longue endurance (HALE), une aile volante, un dirigeable, un zeppelin et un dirigeable souple.
     
    11. Procédé de commande du mouvement d'un aéronef (106), le procédé comportant les étapes consistant à :

    identifier (1900) une fonction aérodynamique (122) souhaitée pour commander le mouvement (108) de l'aéronef (106) à une altitude particulière, la fonction aérodynamique identifiée faisant partie d'un groupe de fonctions aérodynamiques (122) utilisées pour commander le mouvement de l'aéronef (106) à une multiplicité d'altitudes (104) différentes ; et

    remplir (1902) un groupe de pales gonflables (120) d'un fluide (116) jusqu'à une pression qui correspond à la fonction aérodynamique, le groupe de pales gonflables (120) à la pression présentant une forme (208) et un groupe de dimensions (210) qui assurent la fonction aérodynamique ;

    une pale gonflable (200) dans le groupe de pales gonflables (120) comportant :

    une structure extérieure gonflable (202) qui est une ligne extérieure (206) de moule pour la pale gonflable (200) ; et

    des poches (204) à fluide à l'intérieur de la structure extérieure gonflable (202), la structure extérieure gonflable et les poches (204) à fluide étant gonflées sélectivement pour modifier la forme (208) et/ou le groupe de dimensions (210) de la structure extérieure gonflable (202).


     
    12. Procédé selon la revendication 11, le groupe de fonctions aérodynamiques (122) qui commande le mouvement étant sélectionné parmi la propulsion (126), la poussée aérostatique (128) et/ou la portance (130).
     
    13. Procédé selon la revendication 11 ou 12, le groupe de pales gonflables (120) étant constitué d'un matériau (216) qui provoque des modifications de la forme (208) du groupe de pales gonflables (120) selon la pression du fluide (116).
     




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    Cited references

    REFERENCES CITED IN THE DESCRIPTION



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    Patent documents cited in the description