The Genius of Cycloidal Propellers: Future of Flight?

20 Mar 202411:36


TLDRThe script explores the history and modern applications of cycloidal propellers, from early 20th-century designs to their current use in vertical take-off and landing vehicles. It highlights the Voith-Schneider Propeller's marine success and the challenges and potential of adapting cyclorotor technology for aviation, as pursued by companies like Cyclotech. The narrative also touches on the unique benefits and drawbacks of cycloidal propellers, providing insights into their operation and the ongoing engineering efforts to harness their potential for future transportation.


  • 🛩️ Early 20th century saw the first designs of cycloidal propellers, like E.P. Sverchkov's 'Samoljot' in 1909, though it didn’t achieve flight.
  • 🇩🇪 Adolf Rohrbach's advancements in Germany during the 1930s marked significant progress in cyclorotor design, despite skepticism from foreign aviation journals.
  • 🚀 Jonathan Edward Caldwell's fraudulent attempts and the Schroeder S1 prototype reflect the era's experimental approach to aircraft propulsion systems.
  • 🌊 The Voith-Schneider Propeller, a maritime cycloidal propeller developed in 1931, brought major improvements in ship maneuverability and control.
  • ⚓ VSP's adoption in World War II highlighted its potential, but its use was limited due to the war's demands and the technology’s novelty.
  • 🛳️ Post-war, VSP found widespread use in civilian maritime sectors, benefiting ports, harbors, and offshore industries with its precision and versatility.
  • 🔧 Advancements in materials, hydrodynamics, and control systems over decades have expanded VSP's applications, including dynamic positioning and renewable energy.
  • 🚁 Transitioning cycloidal propellers from maritime to aviation, like Cyclotech's efforts, illustrates the innovative adaptation of technology across industries.
  • 🔄 Cyclorotors offer precise thrust vectoring and maneuverability, with the potential to significantly improve VTOL (Vertical Take-Off and Landing) vehicle performance.
  • 🔍 The complexities and challenges of cycloidal propellers in aviation involve intricate control systems, potential stress on components, and size considerations.

Q & A

  • What is the significance of cycloidal propellers in the early 20th century?

    -The early 20th century saw the development of the first cycloidal propellers, which were innovative in their design and offered potential advantages over conventional propellers, particularly for vertical take-off and landing vehicles.

  • Who was the first to design something resembling a cyclorotor?

    -The first notable design of something resembling a cyclorotor was created by Russian military engineer E.P. Sverchkov in 1909, with his 'Samoljot' design.

  • What advancements were made in the 1930s regarding cycloidal propellers?

    -In the 1930s, significant advancements were made by Adolf Rohrbach in Germany, although his design faced skepticism and lack of funding. Additionally, the Schroeder S1, a full-size prototype using a cyclorotor for forward thrust, was developed.

  • What was the first operational application of cyclorotor technology?

    -The first operational application of cyclorotor technology was the Voith-Schneider Propeller (VSP), developed by Ernst Schneider and enhanced by the company Voith, which revolutionized marine propulsion.

  • How does the Voith Schneider Propeller (VSP) differ from traditional propeller systems?

    -The Voith Schneider Propeller (VSP) offers unparalleled precision and control compared to traditional propeller systems, allowing vessels to move laterally, rotate on the spot, and provide accurate thrust in any direction, making it particularly useful for high manoeuvrability vessels like tugs and ferries.

  • What are some of the benefits of cycloidal propellers in aviation?

    -Cycloidal propellers in aviation offer enhanced manoeuvrability and efficient thrust vectoring, which is the ability to change the direction of thrust with ease. They also generate uniform lift and are quieter due to the absence of vortices from rapidly moving tips.

  • What are the challenges associated with using cycloidal propellers?

    -The challenges of using cycloidal propellers include the need for intricate control systems, which can increase cost and maintenance requirements. Additionally, the dynamic nature of their operation subjects the blades and structure to significant stress, potentially leading to wear and tear or failure under harsh conditions.

  • What is the current status of Cyclotech's rotor design?

    -Cyclotech, an Austrian company, has been working on their rotor design for over 15 years and has received over $20 million of additional funding. They have demonstrated their vehicle flying outdoors following permission from the European Union Aviation Safety Agency in 2023.

  • How does the Cyclotech vehicle compare to other eVTOLs like the Jetson One?

    -The Cyclotech vehicle is lighter than the Jetson One at 83 kg, but it has a limited flight time due to battery constraints. In contrast, the Jetson One can carry an additional 95 kg in pilot weight and has a flight time of 20 minutes, suggesting that more mature technologies may offer some advantages over the cyclorotor design.

  • What is the potential application of the Voith Schneider Propeller in renewable energy?

    -The Voith Schneider Propeller has been adapted for use in renewable energy applications, such as tidal and river current turbines, where its ability to efficiently generate thrust and control movement could be beneficial.

  • How does the design of cycloidal propellers affect their noise generation?

    -Cycloidal propellers generate less noise because their blades all move at the same speed, which means the lift they produce is uniform and they don't create the vortices that can cause loud noises in conventional propellers.



🚀 History and Principles of Cycloidal Propellers

This paragraph delves into the origins of cycloidal propellers, initially conceived in the early 20th century, and their modern application in vertical take-off and landing vehicles. It introduces Cyclotech, a company innovating in this field. The discussion then transitions to the workings of cycloidal propellers, highlighting their advantages over traditional designs. Historical attempts at cyclorotor development, such as the Samoljot by E.P. Sverchkov in 1909 and advancements by Adolf Rohrbach in the 1930s, are mentioned. The paragraph also touches on the Voith-Schneider Propeller (VSP), a successful marine application of cyclorotor technology, and its impact on ship maneuverability and control.


🛠️ Designing Propellers with Onshape and Cycloidal Propellers' Working Principle

The paragraph begins with a brief introduction to Onshape, a professional-grade computer-aided design software, and its benefits for designers. It then explains the working principle of cycloidal propellers, detailing the arrangement of aerofoils around a disk and how they generate lift and drag. The need for varying angles of attack for the aerofoils to achieve统一 direction of thrust is discussed, as well as the mechanical linkage and servo motor systems used to control them. The paragraph also addresses the benefits of cyclorotors, such as uniform lift generation, quieter operation, and potential applications in urban transport. However, it acknowledges the challenges of intricate control systems, stress on the blades, and the larger size and weight of cycloidal propeller systems.


🚁 Cyclotech's Progress with Cyclorotor Technology

This paragraph focuses on the current state of Cyclotech's development of cyclorotor technology for aviation. It describes the company's test vehicle, its lightweight carbon fibre chassis, and the four attached cyclorotors. The vehicle's successful indoor tethered flights and outdoor demonstrations with permission from the European Union Aviation Safety Agency are highlighted. The paragraph raises questions about the cyclorotor's advantages over conventional propellers, comparing it to the Jetson One, another vertical take-off and landing vehicle. It concludes with a call to action for viewers to subscribe to the channel and share their thoughts on the future of cyclorotors.



💡Cycloidal Propellers

Cycloidal propellers are a type of propeller that uses a series of aerofoils arranged in a circular pattern around a disk to generate lift and drag as the cylinder spins around. They are designed to operate in a way that the direction of thrust can be quickly changed, offering enhanced manoeuvrability. In the context of the video, these propellers are being repurposed for modern vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) vehicles, showcasing their adaptability from marine to aviation applications.

💡Vertical Take-off and Landing (VTOL) Vehicles

VTOL vehicles are aircraft that can take off vertically and land vertically, without the need for a runway. They are designed to offer greater flexibility in terms of where they can operate from. In the video, the company Cyclotech is highlighted for their work on a VTOL vehicle that utilizes cycloidal propellers, indicating a shift from traditional propeller designs to more innovative technologies for enhanced performance and capabilities.


A cyclorotor is a specific type of rotor used in cycloidal propellers, featuring a number of aerofoils arranged around a disk. The unique design allows for the generation of lift and thrust in a controlled manner, with the ability to change the direction of thrust efficiently. Cyclorotors are central to the video's discussion on the evolution of propulsion technology, particularly in the context of VTOL vehicles and marine applications.

💡Voith-Schneider Propeller (VSP)

The Voith-Schneider Propeller, or VSP, is a type of cycloidal propeller designed for marine propulsion. It allows for precise control of a ship's movement, including lateral movement and rotation on the spot. The VSP's innovative design has made it particularly useful for vessels requiring high manoeuvrability, such as tugs and ferries. The video emphasizes the VSP as a successful application of cycloidal propeller technology and its impact on maritime operations.


Cyclotech is an Austrian company that has been developing rotor designs for over 15 years, with a focus on applying cycloidal propeller technology to VTOL vehicles. They have received significant funding and have demonstrated their vehicle flying both indoors and outdoors. The company represents the modern pursuit of integrating cycloidal propeller technology into aviation, aiming to achieve enhanced manoeuvrability and efficiency.


Manoeuvrability refers to the ability of a vehicle to change its position or movement in a controlled and precise manner. In the context of the video, it highlights the advantage of cycloidal propellers and cyclorotors in providing enhanced manoeuvrability, particularly for VTOL vehicles and ships equipped with VSPs. This is crucial for operations in tight spaces or for performing complex movements that traditional propellers cannot achieve.

💡Thrust Vectoring

Thrust vectoring is the ability to change the direction of the thrust produced by a propulsion system, such as a propeller or jet engine. This capability allows for greater control over the movement of a vehicle, enabling it to perform complex manoeuvres without the need for large physical movements of the vehicle itself. In the video, thrust vectoring is a key feature of cycloidal propellers and cyclorotors, which is particularly beneficial for VTOL vehicles and ships requiring precise control.


Onshape is a professional-grade computer-aided design (CAD) software that is cloud-based and offers real-time collaboration, seamless integration with mobile and tablet devices, and built-in product data management. It is noted in the video as a tool that can be used for designing propellers or other complex projects, highlighting its ease of use and accessibility for creators and engineers.

💡Dynamic Positioning Systems

Dynamic positioning systems are used to automatically maintain a vessel's position and heading by using thrusters, such as cycloidal propellers, to counteract external forces like wind and current. These systems are crucial for operations in industries like offshore oil and gas extraction, where precise positioning is required. In the video, the mention of dynamic positioning systems illustrates the versatility and application range of cycloidal propellers beyond traditional marine propulsion.

💡Renewable Energy Applications

Renewable energy applications refer to the use of natural resources such as sunlight, wind, and water currents to generate energy in a sustainable and environmentally friendly manner. In the context of the video, cycloidal propellers are mentioned as being used in tidal and river current turbines, indicating their role in harnessing the power of water for clean energy production.

💡Control Systems

Control systems in the context of the video refer to the mechanisms that manage the operation of cycloidal propellers and cyclorotors, adjusting the angle of attack of the aerofoils to control the direction and magnitude of thrust. These systems are essential for the precise and efficient functioning of the propellers, allowing for complex movements and manoeuvres.


The concept of cycloidal propellers dates back to the early 20th century.

Cycloidal propeller principles are now being repurposed for modern vertical take-off and landing vehicles.

The 'Samoljot' by Russian engineer E.P. Sverchkov in 1909 was an early design resembling a cyclorotor.

Adolf Rohrbach made advancements in cyclorotor design in the 1930s, but his project faced skepticism and lack of funding.

The Voith-Schneider Propeller (VSP) was the first operational application of cyclorotor technology, revolutionizing marine propulsion.

VSP-equipped vessels can move laterally, rotate on the spot, and provide accurate thrust in any direction, improving manoeuvrability.

The VSP's advantages in safety, efficiency, and operational versatility led to its adoption in civil maritime applications post-WWII.

Voith continued to innovate and refine the VSP, enhancing its performance, reliability, and application range over the decades.

Cycloidal propellers are now being considered for use in dynamic positioning systems and renewable energy applications like tidal and river current turbines.

The core principles of cycloidal propellers are being adapted for aircraft, involving significant re-engineering to suit air instead of water.

Cyclotech, an Austrian company, is developing a rotor design for vertical takeoff and landing vehicles with over 15 years of research and recent funding.

Cyclotech's test vehicle is a carbon fibre chassis with 4 cyclorotors, weighing 83 kg, and has demonstrated indoor flight capabilities.

The cyclorotor's thrust vectoring abilities may offer enhanced manoeuvrability and efficient thrust vectoring for aircraft.

Cyclorotors generate uniform lift and are quieter than conventional propellers as they don't create vortices and loud noises.

The unique blade movement of cyclorotors requires intricate control systems, potentially increasing cost and maintenance.

Cycloidal propellers are larger and heavier than conventional propellers, which could affect their efficiency in certain scenarios.



The first cycloidal propellers were thought  up in the early 20th century. But now,  


the same principles are being repurposed  for modern vertical take-off and landing  


vehicles. Later we will be checking out the  company Cyclotech who are doing just that,  


and see if their idea is getting off the ground.  But first, let’s see how the cycloidal propeller  


works, and why it might be favoured  over conventional propeller designs.


The first notable design of something  resembling a cyclorotor is the "Samoljot"  


by Russian military engineer E.P. Sverchkov in  1909. This vehicle, featuring paddle wheels for  


propulsion, was a step in cyclorotor development  but did not achieve flight. Further advancements  


were made in the 1930s, notably by Adolf Rohrbach  in Germany. The DVL, who are the German Research  


Institute for Aviation, evaluated Rohrbach’s  design, but the foreign aviation journals of  


the time cast doubt on the design which meant  that funding for the project could not be raised.


I also found this ridiculous clip of something  resembling a plane by Jonathan Edward Caldwell,  


the plan was for the rotating wings  to cause the aircraft to fly like a  


goose. Mr Caldwell was later charged  with fraud and a working aircraft was  


never completed. I am sure you  are all as surprised as I am.


There was also the Schroeder S1 of 1930,  


a full-size prototype which used a cyclorotor  only for forward thrust and looks a bit like a  


flying combine harvester. I can’t find much  information about the Schroeder S1 online,  


but it represents an era of interest and  innovation in the early to mid-20th century  


as engineers sought new methods to achieve  better aircraft performance and capabilities


The first operational application of  cyclorotor technology was the Voith-Schneider  


Propeller (VSP), developed by Ernst Schneider and  enhanced by the company Voith. Unlike the other  


systems, this was built for marine propulsion  and was successfully tested in 1937.


The Voith Schneider Propeller, or VSP, is a  type of cycloidal propeller and was patented  


in 1931. This propeller revolutionised the way  ships could manoeuvre, offering unparalleled  


precision and control compared to traditional  propeller systems. The ability of VSP-equipped  


vessels to move laterally, rotate on the spot,  and provide accurate thrust in any direction made  


it particularly useful for tugs, ferries, and  other vessels requiring high manoeuvrability.


The VSP's potential was further recognized  during World War II, where the need for nimble,  


highly manoeuvrable vessels became apparent.  However, its widespread adoption in military  


vessels was somewhat limited by the war's  demands and the technology's novelty at the time.


In the post-war era, the Voith Schneider  Propeller found its niche in civil maritime  


applications. Its adoption was driven by the  growing recognition of its advantages in safety,  


efficiency, and operational versatility.  Ports, harbours, and the flourishing offshore  


industry saw the VSP as a solution to their  increasingly complex operational challenges.


Over the decades, Voith continued to  innovate and refine the VSP. Advancements  


in materials science, hydrodynamics, and  control systems significantly enhanced  


the performance, reliability,  and application range. Today,  


it is not only found in marine vessels but also  in dynamic positioning systems for floating cranes  


and even in renewable energy applications  such as tidal and river current turbines.


I found a few videos of these in action and  they are pretty incredible to watch. Out of  


the water they look like some kind of death trap,  but on a scale model of a tugboat you can see how  


it is able to easily move in any direction  without having to rotate the whole vessel.


The transition of the cycloidal propeller  concept that has been working in maritime  


applications for decades, into aviation, is a  fascinating example of technological adaptation.  


While the core principles are grounded  in the same theory, successfully using  


cyclorotors for aircraft involves significant  re-engineering to suit air instead of water.


Given the continued success of the Voith Schneider  Propeller, you can see why the pursuit for air  


bound cyclorotors continues. Engineers remain  understandably excited due to promises of enhanced  


manoeuvrability, and efficient thrust vectoring  - that being the ability to change the direction  


of thrust with ease. You can see this in action  from a test video from the company Cyclotech,  


where the direction of the outgoing  smoke can be precisely controlled.


To understand how this precise control  is possible, let’s take a closer look at  


how exactly this propeller works,  and then see it in an aircraft.


But before that, if you want to design propellers  of your own, or just about anything for that  


matter, you need to know about Onshape.  OnShape is a professional grade computer  


aided design software that is completely free  for all makers and hobbyists forever. It's  


even free for engineers and companies for  6 months so they can properly try it out.


What blows my mind is that you can set  everything up in 2 minutes without any  


downloads and start making stuff straight away,  like I have done for so many projects now.


Because OnShape is built with  a cloud native architecture,  


it enables features such as real time  collaboration, seamless integration with  


mobile and tablet use for iOS and Android,  and built in product data management. Cloud  


auto saving also means you won’t ever lose  all of your work half way through a project.


File sharing can also be as  simple as just sending a link,  


just like the ones in the description. OnShape  is also continuously adding new features,  


so make sure to get a free account  and start creating whatever you  


can think of using,  which is also linked in the description.


Ok, now for the magic of Cycloidal Propellers. The  exact working principle of different Cyclorotors  


changes from system to system, but let’s start  with the similarities. As you have probably seen,  


the rotors have a number of aerofoils arranged in  a circular pattern around a disk. These aerofoils  


therefore generate lift and drag as the cylinder  spins around. However, in order to generate lift  


or thrust in a single uniform direction, these  aerofoils need to be at different angles of attack  


depending on where they are in the circular  loop. For example, if we want to go upwards,  


the leading edge of the aerofoil on the top would  need to point away from the centre of rotation,  


whereas the leading edge of the aerofoil on the  bottom would need to point towards the centre. The  


airfoils on the sides would therefore be tucked in  as they transition and try to minimise their drag.


The direction that these aerofoils point can be  used to quickly change the direction of thrust  


from the propeller. For example, to change the  direction downwards, the top aerofoil would have  


to point into the centre and the bottom  aerofoil away from the centre. This means  


the high pressure side of the airfoil is now on  the upper side, forcing it downwards. Similarly,  


the angle of the side aerofoils could  be altered for side to side movement.


A lot of cyclorotors use a mechanical linkage to  control the angle of attack of the aerofoils all  


together. This is a simple way to control  everything all at once and makes sure each  


blade rotates at the right point. This is  important because each blade must shift  


in orientation as it changes from being at the  top, sides, and bottom. Modern setups like the  


ABB Dynafin actually use individual servo motors  to control each aerofoil. Although this is more  


complex from a control point of view, it allows  more flexibility and likely higher efficiencies.


Due to the different properties of water  and air, the timings and angle of attack  


in cyclorotors for each application do vary. In  fact, some marine systems I have seen kick out  


one blade with such a high angle of attack it  seems to act as more of a paddle. Nevertheless,  


that is broadly how they seem to operate, which  brings me onto some other interesting benefits.


Unlike conventional propellers that  have tips which move much faster than  


the inner portions of the propeller, the  blades of cyclorotors all move at the same  


speed. This means the lift they generate is  uniform by default, but it also means they  


are quieter as they don’t create vortices and  loud noises from the rapidly moving tips. This  


reduction in noise could be a pretty serious  benefit if these were to be used in vertical  


take off and landing vehicles that would be used  for city transport, like cyclotech has planned.


Before looking at cyclotech, it’s worth noting  that these propellers aren’t all sunshine and  


rainbows however. Their unique blade movement  requires intricate control systems, which can  


increase the cost and maintenance requirements.  Additionally, the varying angles of attack  


and the dynamic nature of their operation subject  the blades and structure to significant stress,  


potentially leading to wear and tear or  even failure under harsh conditions. This  


is made worse by the fact the rotor is essentially  trying to pull itself apart the faster it spins.  


The size of cycloidal propeller systems are also  considerably bigger than conventional propellers,  


in turn increasing the weight. Even if a  cyclorotor’s thrust vectoring abilities make  


it more efficient in some scenarios, it might be  useless if the thrust to weight ratio is too low.


Thankfully, engineers are not ones  to give up quickly when things get  


complicated or even impractical. Flying cars  have been a childhood dream of so many of us,  


and I think part of the excitement around the  Cyclotech vehicle is based on the flying car  


feeling it gives off. This all electric  vertical takeoff and landing vehicle,  


or eVTOL, might be a while away from  taking me from my driveway into a big  


utopian city of opportunity. But what they  have achieved is still pretty incredible.


Cyclotech is an Austrian company that  has been working on their rotor design  


for over 15 years now, and just received  over $20 million of additional funding.


Their main test vehicle appears to be  a carbon fibre chassis with 4 of their  


cyclorotors attached. The vehicle weighs  just 83 kg, of which roughly half is the  


cyclorotors. Each cyclorotor spins up to  3100 rpm and they have successfully shown  


the ability for the vehicle to fly indoors  tethered up. However, following permission  


from the European Union Aviation Safety Agency  in 2023, they have also demonstrated the vehicle  


flying outdoors. There is no talk of the  flight time available here, but I imagine  


it’s very limited given that adding batteries  would quickly send up the weight of the system.


I do have to wonder if the cyclorotor will have  any substantial benefits over more conventional  


propeller designs in this use case. We have  already seen products like the Jetson One  


demonstrate it is possible to achieve a lot  of the aims of cyclotech using more mature  


technologies. The Jetson One is a similar weight  at 86 kg, but allows for another 95 kg in pilot  


weight on top of that with a flight time of  20 minutes. Man, I really want to have a go  


in one of these things. Think how easy it would  be to trim all the local hedges or lose an arm. 


As you’re still watching, please subscribe to the  channel, as I think you’ll enjoy some of the other  


videos, like this one about drones that can 3D  print houses. Your support helps the channel  


so much, and I’d love to hear your thoughts  on the future of cyclorotors in the comments.

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Related Tags
Cycloidal PropellersAviation HistoryInnovationVertical Take-offCyclotechVoith Schneider PropellerMaritime TechnologyAerodynamicsEngineering ChallengeseVTOL