HAI Convention News

Honeywell Bets On Electric Engine, VTOL Future

 - February 27, 2019, 1:00 PM
Honeywell's first offering in the hybrid-electric space is this HTS900 gas turbine engine equipped with two 200-kilowatt electric generators attached to the gearbox. (Photo: Honeywell Aerospace)

Honeywell Aerospace (C3107) is bullish on civil vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) aircraft and electric engines, a theme that will manifest itself at Heli-Expo where the company will have on public display for the first time its hybrid-electric engine that will power the first generation of VTOL aircraft. 

And the way those officials see it, electric-powered VTOL aircraft are a big part of the Phoenix, Arizona-based company’s future. 

Honeywell's hybrid powerplant is an electrified version of its 1,100-shaft horsepower HTS900 gas turbine engine that can be found on Kopter’s (B4016) new SH09 light turbine helicopter, as well as the Eagle Copters Eagle 407HP conversion that retrofits the Bell 407. “In regards to urban air mobility, that’s really the sweet spot [for shaft horsepower],” Bryan Wood, who runs the hybrid propulsion division for Honeywell Aerospace’s engines and power systems group, told AIN. “This is an engine that we’ve decided to highlight. It has a very competitive power density and specific fuel consumption.” It can burn conventional or bio-derived jet fuel.

The hybridization of the engine is accomplished with the mounting of a gearbox that drives a pair of 200-kilowatt generators, Wood said. “We’re actually able to produce power from the engine, which then feeds into the generators, which will then downstream spin motors,” he said. Combined, the output of the two generators is enough to power 40 average American homes running air conditioners at their highest setting, Honeywell said. 

The hybrid engine, in tandem with batteries, will produce 30 to 50 percent fewer carbon emissions than the traditional HTS900 engine. “It’ll be a drastic haircut to what you’re seeing in regards to carbon emission output for helicopters today,” Wood said. “You can put this on a helicopter, but we’re really targeting the new and evolving VTOL aircraft space.”

XTI’s TriFan 600 is the first airframe where the HTS900 hybrid will be put to use, though Wood added there are “other customers as well that we’re very engaged in conversation with” about using the engine.

Wood said the same electric-generation setup on the HTS900 could be put on nine other Honeywell helicopter engines, too. 

Longer term, Honeywell plans to have an all-electric engine that will use batteries and fuel cells, omitting the gas turbine completely. “We’re currently working with both battery and motor suppliers, he said. “So we’re in the R & D stage. We’re doing our best to essentially align our program timeline to that of OEMs.” That would enable Honeywell to have a VTOL electric engine in the 2023 to 2025 timeframe, Wood added.

At the same time, the company is developing a fully integrated avionics, flight control and navigation system for VTOL, Rolly McFarlin, who works in business development for Honeywell Aerospace’s electric solutions division, told AIN. 

McFarlin and Wood said VTOL aircraft and the concept of urban air mobility aren’t some futuristic, pie-in-the-sky ideal. They are real, they said.

“We fully believe that the market is going to occur,” McFarlin said. “It will happen.” A population shift back to cities will create mega-city growth and gridlock, enabling the concept of urban air mobility to play out, he added. 

“That excitement within Honeywell is all the way up to the highest levels of Honeywell’s senior leadership,” McFarlin added. “And we are fully committed to this. From my side of the business, we’re off and running in developing a solution for this marketplace.”

Wood agreed and said through different trade studies and research the company has concluded that VTOL will be big business. 

Using hybrid or fully electric engines reduces direct operating costs and aircraft noise, “which will then satisfy regulatory bodies and allow you to fly these vehicles in mass quantities around dense metropolitan cities,” Wood said. “And then you’re able to do it in a much safer manner. You’ll have a lot of redundancy in the rotors contained on these aircraft as opposed to just having one rotor that exists on a helicopter today.”

In terms of growth prospects for Honeywell’s traditional helicopter business, it’s going to be found mostly in supporting the existing fleet through aftermarket and retrofits, Richard Buchanan, senior director of Honeywell’s commercial helicopter business, told AIN. “There’s only maybe one [new helicopter development program] every other year,” Buchanan said. “Really, the place to grow is in aftermarket and retrofit.”

That’s especially true in what is a tough industry, now and in the foreseeable future. “In general, I think the market is still depressed,” he said. “Very few new helicopters are being produced these days as oil prices continue to stay depressed.” 

The oil prices are limiting flight hours for a “huge portion of the market,” Buchanan added.