Paris Air Show

Turbomeca plots revolution in helicopter engine design

 - June 12, 2009, 4:23 AM

Turbomeca is pressing ahead with a radical design for a new generation of helicopter engines to deliver a quantum leap in operational efficiency. “If we do not shoot for a 30- to 50-percent improvement in fuel burn for 20 to 30 years from now, the helicopter will be no more than an airshow attraction and will no longer be a business tool,” the French company’s president Pierre Fabre told AIN. “Also, we have to reduce pollution and noise if there is to be a future for vertical flight.”

According to Fabre, Turbomeca hopes to be able to deliver by 2015 new engines that offer a 14-percent improvement in fuel burn. It then intends that further engines available from 2030 should achieve a 35-percent improvement. He believes that the technology available in the 2015 engine will represent the performance limit of the existing gas turbine and that beyond that Turbomeca will need to offer technology as advanced as the open-rotor powerplants now being considered for fixed-wing aircraft.

“What we are looking at is an innovative solution,” he said. “We don’t know what it is and we won’t do it by ourselves. We will work with the airframers. It will need improved thermal power, electrical power and a combined cycle. We need to bring together engineering ideas into a single concept and integrate separate technologies. Now we are just at the definition mode.”

For instance, Turbomeca engineers believe that a 10- to 15-percent improvement in fuel burn could come from new blade designs. Fabre said that the new engine technology could well necessitate significant changes in the architecture of the helicopters themselves.

Maintaining investment in long-term research and development is challenging at a time when income from existing engines is down, Fabre acknowledged. Meanwhile, Turbomeca remains committed to certifying further upgrades to its existing Ardiden and Arriel turboshafts.

The Safran group subsidiary had expected to deliver as many as 1,600 engines this year (having produced more than 1,300 last year). But this figure has now been revised downward to slightly less than the 2008 total.

According to Fabre, the 20 percent of its customer base who collectively account for 80 percent of its business in terms of volume of engines and activity levels are still flying as much as last year. This group consists mainly of operators from the military, the oil industry, the emergency medical sector, and police and various utility functions.

However, there has been decline among the remaining 80 percent of its customer base who account for 20 percent of its business. Foremost among these are the VIP, corporate and private operators who are being hit in the same way as the much-maligned business jet community. Fabre said that this has resulted in a 10-percent dip in business for Turbomeca, and he predicted that the recovery will have to be led by the 20-percent group of customers and he expects this to take at least two years.

Here at Le Bourget, Turbomeca is also showcasing its new BASIS system for streamlining the fleet management. This collects and combines engine data to identify the most cost-effective way to operate them, and it will be available to operators from early 2011.