Green Helicopter: Almost a Reality

Like any other power-driven vehicle, the helicopter must become more environmentally friendly. As part of several programs, including the European Clean Sky project in particular, Eurocopter is working on different ways to produce green helicopters.

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Several avenues of research are being explored to reduce the noise levels and gas emissions of Eurocopter helicopters, all of which attest to Eurocopter’s environmental commitment. The Group has already played a pioneering role in reducing noise with the EC120, EC130 and the EC135, and is pursuing efforts to make its aircraft even quieter. One current project concerns a new rotor equipped with main blades whose shape has been optimized. Initial results forecast that gains could be comparable to those obtained between an aircraft from the 1970s/80s and the EC130. Another major project is active rotor control, which has been tested on an experimental EC145. This technology produces a simultaneous reduction in noise and vibration, but is more complex and will require maturing before it becomes economically viable.
Making airframes more aerodynamic is another avenue being explored. Reducing the fuselage’s aerodynamic drag means less power is required in flight, gas emissions are reduced, and mission performance is not affected in any way.
The electrification of functions is also a promising area that will optimize the energy balance in each flight phase, resulting in less demand on the engines and reduced gas emissions. Electric actuators for the flight controls and auxiliary functions (landing gear, hoist, etc.) will replace hydraulic systems and completely eliminate the need for hydraulic fluids, which are toxic and not easily biodegradable. A new cabin heating system could also be introduced that does not use bleed air from the engines, significantly improving engine performance once again. Given the probability of another rise in the price of kerosene despite the present lull, optimizing helicopter energy by electrically powering the helicopter’s tail rotor and is currently being studied in anticipation of this rise.
Integrating a new, greener engine on light helicopters is another area with high potential, and a demonstrator (see article on page 22) is being built to prove the feasibility of this concept.
The EADS Group as a whole is examining the use of alternative fuels. Studies have been carried out by and with engine manufacturers into second-generation biofuels. These biofuels could be used in helicopters with specially adapted engines. Beyond aircraft design, manufacturers and the regulatory authorities are also looking at how the fleet is operated: Low noise flight paths and the most effective integration of helicopters in air traffic are the avenues being explored here. What’s more, cockpits will soon offer pilots all the help they need to comfortably follow the recommended procedures, even in all-weather conditions.
“All of these actions are based on a long-term strategy implemented by Eurocopter,” explains François Toulmay, the man in charge of preparing European research programs at Eurocopter’s Technical Support department. “We want to see a significant and measurable reduction in our customers’ noise levels and gas emissions. The Emission Trading System will be operational from 2012 for certain types of aircraft and missions, and could seriously penalize operators that exceed their allowance. Operators will then be forced to buy gas emission allowances, whose price will inevitably soar.”


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Active rotor control, tested on an experimental BK117, produces a simultaneous reduction in noise and vibration levels.

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Electrification of functions will optimize the energy balance in each flight phase.

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Manufacturers and the regulatory authorities are looking at two ways in which the fleet is operated: Low noise flight paths and the most effective integration of helicopters in air traffic.


ARTICLE: MONIQUE COLONGES

Eurocopter must be environmentally responsible at every stage: from design to manufacture.

Great Expectations

“Eurocopter has always endeavored to reduce the noise of its helicopters for environmental reasons. The development of our range has also led to major reductions in consumption and therefore gas emissions. We have to continue this work because climate change has become a major concern for everybody. We sense this concern in the requests from our customers, no matter how they operate our helicopters. Our participation in European research programs and the creation of a group dedicated to environmental affairs show how seriously we take this issue. We’re looking at all the possibilities, including powering a light helicopter with a diesel engine, which could reduce CO2 emissions in flight by 40%. To meet market expectations, we have to do more than just improve our products: Eurocopter must also be environmentally responsible at every stage from the design of new helicopters and their manufacture and operational use, through to the end of their service life. On request, we can already provide some of our customers with recommendations on how to operate their aircraft in the best conditions to minimize their impact on the environment.”

Dominique Orbec, market and development manager at Eurocopter