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DragonFly DF1.jpg

Hydrogen peroxide, H2O2, is not something most people normally think of as “fuel.” After all, it’s got no carbon in it. Most people know that, as an oxidizer, it can enhance the burning rate of fuels, but the familiar “fire triangle” teaches us that combustion requires both an oxidizer and a fuel, plus a source of ignition, to get started. Turns out, depending on how concentrated it is, hydrogen peroxide can, under the right conditions, explode all on its own. The 3% aqueous solution in your medicine cabinet is completely safe, but the hazards increase rapidly as the amount of H2O2 goes up and the amount of H2O goes down. Up around 85% peroxide, the stuff is literally rocket fuel, and its spontaneous decomposition in the presence of a catalyst like, say, metallic silver or manganese dioxide, happens incredibly fast. The rocket motor in Wendell Moore’s famous Bell Rocket Belt (Wikipedia) operated on this principle.

Shown above is a video of the Dragonfly DF1, an experimental aircraft under development by Swisscopter US. Instead of a traditional gasoline engine, the Dragonfly has peroxide-powered rocket engines on the tips of its main blades, with a mechanical take-off to drive the tail-rotor. Large tanks of high-test peroxide supposedly provide 50 minutes of flight at 40 mph.

So why would anyone want a helicopter that works this way? Turns out an H2O2 rocket motor is vastly simpler than a gasoline engine, mechanically, and thus (at least theoretically) less failure-prone, and therefore safer. All you need to make an H2O2 rocket is a tank of high-test peroxide, another tank of inert gas to pressurize it, and a nozzle with a silver-coated screen to spray the stuff through. [via DVICE]

Sean Michael Ragan

Sean Michael Ragan

I am descended from 5,000 generations of tool-using primates. Also, I went to college and stuff. I am a long-time contributor to MAKE magazine and My work has also appeared in ReadyMade, c’t – Magazin für Computertechnik, and The Wall Street Journal.

4 Responses to Helicopter with hydrogen-peroxide-rocket-powered blades

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  1. Colecoman1982 on said:

    Personally, I think of Hydrogen Peroxide as torpedo fuel responsible for the sinking of the British WWII submarine HMS Sidon (P259) and the modern Russian submarine Kursk (reportedly, as the Russians were hesitant to describe the kind of weapons research they may, or may not, have been doing on-board). Being a chemical that reacts, extremely, violently when in contact with water, it’s natural to think that it would make an awesome fuel for water based vehicles (particularly, a high speed torpedo), but it’s proven to be extremely difficult to keep fuel leaks from happening on-board a military vessel (even when not in a wartime environment) and the moment even a little bit of the stuff leaks out it leads to the whole boat going BOOM.

  2. Jim Horn on said:

    Besides the ’60s Rocket Belts, silver catalyzed peroxide rocketry propelled the Blue Flame car to the world land speed record. In that case, the team realized that the peroxide / silver reaction produced about 1200C steam and oxygen. So they added liquified natural gas (LNG) as well which burned in the oxygen, greatly boosting the temperature and thus the thrust and specific impulse. Look up “Blue Flame” in Wikipedia for the details.

    Since propane is far safer to store than rocket grade hydrogen peroxide, I wonder how such a boosted rocket driven rotor tip helicopter would perform – greater endurance if nothing else…

  3. karnuvap on said:

    This is the fuel of choice for Jet Packs too.

    There was a huge and intense fire on the side of the London Ring Road (M25) of a tanker full of the stuff that a jet pack experimenter had (after much trouble) finally managed to get the licence to import. This scuppered his experiments – and I don’t think he has managed to get any more and so the experiments had to end.

  4. screaminscott on said:

    There was a guy in 2002 who was trying to build a rocket to launch himself 50 miles up, using the same fuel:

    Unfortunately we havent heard much from him lately

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