Airbus Helicopters will lead the design of a compound rotorcraft demonstrator dubbed “LifeRCraft” (Low Impact Fast & Efficient RotorCraft) as part of Europe’s Clean Sky 2 Joint Technology Initiative, which was formally launched last week in Brussels. Preliminary studies, architecture and specification activity will start this year, with development and testing of components and subsystems envisioned in the 2016-2018 timeframe. Flight evaluations could start in early 2019.
“This will position the European industry for the potential development of a commercial aircraft based on this concept, with reduced risk before a go/no-go decision is made,” Tomasz Krysinski, Airbus Helicopters’ v-p, research and innovation, said. The LifeRCraft architecture combines a main rotor for vertical takeoff and landing, fixed wings for energy-efficient lift and open propellers for higher speed. The company will use experience gained on its X3 compound demonstrator between 2010 and 2013.
Meanwhile, Airbus Helicopters seems to be downscaling some technology ambitions for in-development programs. “The X4 medium twin, to be unveiled next year at the Heli-Expo show, will share its avionics and autopilot with the EC175,” CEO Guillaume Faury said here. Previously, the X4 was to feature a radically new man-machine interface, including touchscreens and innovative controls. The X4 will have Helionix, which it will share with the EC175 and the EC145 T2, and benefit from regular upgrades. Furthermore, Airbus is now working on only one version of the X4, instead of the two that were to appear in 2017 and then 2020.
Finally, the electric backup motor that Eurocopter tested in 2011 on a single-engine AS350 Ecureuil has not received the go-ahead for development. It will not give birth to a product in the short term, as the technology has been deemed immature. Faury explained the right tradeoffs among weight, price and performance could not be found. This is due mainly to the weight of today’s batteries, AIN understands. As demonstrated three years ago, such a motor would have made autorotation easier in case of engine failure.