Paris Air Show

Airbus Helicopters Reveals 'Racer' Hybrid Helicopter

 - June 20, 2017, 6:12 AM
Airbus Helicopters' high-speed concept rotorcraft, dubbed Racer (for rapid and cost-effective rotorcraft), will have a main rotor, two lateral pusher rotors and a joined “box wing" configuration. Racer will cruise at 220 knots, although it will be able to fly at higher speeds. (Image: Airbus Helicopters)

Airbus Helicopters unveiled at the Paris Air Show a high-speed helicopter concept, codenamed “Racer” (for Rapid And Cost-Effective Rotorcraft). It is being developed as part of the Clean Sky 2 European research program, which will provide more than €200 million ($224 million) to fund building a Racer demonstrator.

The assembly of the first prototype is scheduled for 2019, and 2020 for the first flight. “We want to offer high speed at the right cost, over a typical range of 400 nm,” said Guillaume Faury, Airbus Helicopters's CEO.

The helicopter will have a main rotor, two lateral pusher rotors and a joined “box-wing" configuration. Racer is aimed at markets such as search and rescue, passenger transport and possible military applications. The concept looks similar to the company's self-financed X3 demonstrator, which flew for the first time in 2010. The X3 is now in a museum in the south of France.

“[Racer] will be simpler, with one shaft, so it’s easier to maintain,” added Jean-Brice Dumont, chief technical officer of Airbus Helicopters. One of the goals is to offer 50 percent more speed than conventional rotorcraft with additional cost limited to 25 percent. So, on average, there will be 20 percent of cost saving per nautical mile, per passenger.

Racer will fly at a cruise speed of 220 knots, although it will be able to fly at higher speeds. Airbus Helicopters declined to elaborate on about the maximum speed and the payload. “Racer will carry more payload than the X3, and will be a medium-size machine,” said Dumont.

The development of Racer will involve 38 partners (mainly European) from 13 countries. For example, Avio will make the gearbox and GE UK will do the wings. Safran Helicopters Engines will supply its RTM322, which equipped the NH90 and the X3. “This will be an adaptation of the actual RTM322,” added a source at Safran Helicopters Engines.

As to reducing fuel consumption and increasing range, the engine will be equipped with a new electrically powered “stop and start” system. This "eco mode" concept will allow a pilot to “pause” an engine while in cruise, generating fuel savings of approximately 15 percent and longer range. 

"An auxiliary electric smart motor will provide additional power when needed [acceleration, landing or autorotation, etc.],” explained Safran Helicopter Engines. Box-wing architecture has several advantages: it improves the aerodynamic efficiency, enables better integration of the landing gear, and the pusher rotor will improve safety for passengers.

The Racer will also have a hybrid metallic-composite airframe, though Airbus Helicopters declined to give more details. It will also be equipped with new high-voltage direct-current electrical generation to save weight.

Airbus Helicopters is pursuing another innovative concept for a heavy helicopter, called X6, which was revealed at the 2015 Paris Air Show, and is designed to replace the Super Puma. Yesterday, the European Commission authorized reimbursable financing of €377 million over eight years for this program. “We are still in the concept phase with the X6 and this financial help will help it to continue,” said Faury. Airbus Helicopters is waiting for a resurgence of the oil-and-gas market before going further, and it's now scheduled for entry into service after 2025, rather than around 2020.