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The European Clean Sky 2 programme offers Airbus a unique framework for developing a high-speed helicopter, drawing on long years of research and on the success of the X3. The goal: to combine vertical take-off and speed in safe conditions and at an optimised cost.

The mission for speed

The concept of “high speed” for an aircraft that is capable of hovering and making vertical landings is not merely an engineer’s dream. It is driven by operators' needs and expectations for helicopters that are faster, safer, more environmentally friendly, and more cost efficient. Until now, aircraft that could combine vertical take-off with high speeds were reserved for the military. But these days, civilian operators also want to travel faster — to save more lives, reduce response times, cover greater distances, or increase the number of round trips.

Tomasz Krysinski, Head of Research and Innovation at Airbus Helicopters, explains the project for creating a high-speed hybrid aircraft as part of the European Clean Sky 2 research plan:

What are the origins of the hybrid helicopter project in the context of Clean Sky 2?
Tomasz Krysinski: It’s not every day that we create a new formula for aircraft. Since the development of the tiltrotor in 1955, it’s been more than 60 years since a similar innovation has led to civilian applications. But now, successful experiments with the X3 demonstrator, which massively surpassed our expectations, have enabled us to design a hybrid aircraft that’s extremely effective in terms of both performance and cost. We had already succeeded in developing a machine that was agile and easy to fly, combining the helicopter’s low-speed hovering with the high-speed flight comfort of an airplane. But the things we’ve learned from the X3 prompted us to go further, to offer our civilian customers a fast aircraft at a low cost.

What’s the secret to this new formula?
T. K.: Our hybrid helicopter has no tilting components. We used a main transmission along with a classic rotor and lateral rotors originating from general aviation. Our formula flies more than 50 percent faster than a classic helicopter and its cost per nautical mile travelled is 25 percent cheaper. What’s more, this new formula meets significant environmental requirements. The blades have been optimised to reduce the noise level, and opting for lateral rotor propulsion allowed us to cut the sound signature by 60 percent for low-altitude flights thanks to very specific approach trajectories. Finally, in flights at the economical cruising speed (180 knots), the fuel consumption is 15 percent lower (per kg and per hour) than that of a classic helicopter flying at 150 knots. Less fuel consumed while flying faster: the benefits are obvious.

From concept to mission

Clean Sky 2 key dates
2014: Launch of the Clean Sky 2 programme
July 2016: Definition of the general architecture
End of 2016: Preliminary design review
End of 2017: Critical design review
December 2018: Assembly launch for the first demonstrator prototype
2020: First flight of the high-speed hybrid helicopter demonstrator

From concept to mission

Is this a new demonstrator?
T. K.: In the context of the European Clean Sky 2 project, we’re aiming to validate the technology in order to prepare a commercial application. If the X3 was a concept demonstrator, Clean Sky 2 is a mission demonstrator. We can test highly advanced concepts such as the architecture, component integration and the components themselves (lateral rotors, flight controls). We want to offer an aircraft capable of transporting passengers or making business flights, but also of flying missions for the broader public sector – not to mention in the area of emergency medical assistance, where speed plays a vital role in the “golden hour.” Use of this hybrid concept expands the flying range by up to 50 percent. This results in significant savings for the operator, which can reduce the numbers of bases and aircraft, all while increasing the number of lives saved. Maintenance too is simplified, since in the absence of the tail rotor the helicopter has no rear drive shaft. All of that comes back to the idea of setting up a virtuous aeronautical circle, based on simplicity, with the aim of creating added value for operators.

What are the other changes introduced by Clean Sky 2?
T. K.: The European context offered by the Clean Sky 2 programme is a real opportunity for us, and the perfect setting for the development of this new concept. This collaboration with other European countries enables us to work with non-traditional partners and discover new talents and new ways of working. It’s a real opportunity to spread the aeronautical culture and to forge new partnerships around innovative ideas.

View the infographic

An innovative work sharing

Thirty-seven partners, twelve countries, one goal: to jointly design the high-speed aircraft of the future.

To work on this project in real time, designers from Airbus Helicopters and their partners built a shared 3D digital mockup in which each entity can view the systems for which they are responsible and can track the progress of the design process in real time.

“In the context of Clean Sky 2, we have to coordinate the projects of the 37 European entities who are working on designing parts from A to Z,” explains Cédric Latanski, who is responsible for full integration of the Clean Sky 2 3D digital mockup. “To do this, each entity is invited to work directly on the 3D digital mockup. For its part, Airbus Helicopters has taken responsibility for integrating the various systems so that each piece of the puzzle fits perfectly.”

As well as integration, Airbus is directly responsible for developing and/or manufacturing 40 percent of the aircraft, including part of the main mechanics, the avionics, the rear fuselage, the flight control system, and the hydraulics. Airbus is also in charge of the final assembly and for having the aircraft cleared to fly by the DGAC (French General Directorate of Civil Aviation).

The organisational aspect, a real challenge
The Clean Sky 2 project offers Airbus the opportunity to collaborate with companies that are not currently well known in the industry. The selection process was completed through an open call for tenders, led by the Clean Sky Joint Undertaking, and complied with the specifications supplied by Airbus Helicopters. The objective of this project is equally strategic for the project partners.

“Even if we’re used to working with partners on certain development programmes, the Clean Sky project poses an even more complex challenge. It involves uniting and matching all of the work performed by these thirty European partners, which each have their own culture and methods of working. This way of operating requires innovative technical resources, but the organisational aspect alone is a real challenge,” emphasises Damien Couloumies, who is responsible for the general coordination of the Clean Sky 2 project. “We’re trying to impress upon everyone involved the value of being a team player, which has been our strength since the very start of this adventure; the aim is for us all to be working toward the same goal, which is to make aeronautical history by flying a mission demonstrator based on the H³ concept.”

“The time when you could carry out large-scale industrial programmes on your own is long past. Today, developing the biggest aeronautical projects means making international alliances.

Damien Couloumies

Responsible for general coordination of the Clean Sky 2 project

About Clean Sky

The European aeronautical sector is a global leader, comprising the talent and initiative of Europe’s centres of industry. With a steady rate of growth and need for aircraft in the thousands over the next decades, concerns have been raised about the sector’s environmental impact. Clean Sky is the European Union’s response.

Clean Sky is a joint undertaking of the European Commission and the European aeronautics industry (Airbus, Airbus Helicopters, Fraunhofer, Saab, Liebhrerr, Rolls Royce, and others), and is part of the EU Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme. Its mission is to develop innovative, cutting-edge technology with the goal of making a substantial positive impact on noise reduction, CO2 emissions, and fuel economy.

With a budget consisting of contributions on a 50/50 basis, made by the Commission and the aeronautical industry, Clean Sky delivers technology demonstrators in all segments of civil air transport, grouped into areas called integrated technology demonstrators (ITD).

Under the management of the Clean Sky Joint Undertaking (CSJU) the programme’s fi rst phase, Clean Sky 1, put each ITD under the leadership of two industry leaders. Examples of successful demonstrators include Airbus Helicopters’ Bluecopter which, by optimising the design of certain shapes on the fuselage of an H135 helicopter, successfully showed improvements in drag reduction; and the Tech 800 demonstration engine, which showed advances for small- and medium-size helicopter engines with savings of 15 percent fuel burn.

“Such demonstrators incorporate mature technology – developed through the talent of industry, universities, research centres and small and medium–size enterprises – into full-scale demonstrators. The result is a rapid evaluation and testing that helps bring advanced levels of maturity to projects’ designs and techniques,” said Éric Dautriat, Executive Director of Clean Sky. “With this, the hoped-for end result is implementing innovative technology in future products and markets.” The technology of the Tech 800 demonstration engine, for example, was integrated into the product development of the new Turbomeca ARRANO engine, recently selected as the engine of Airbus Helicopters’ H160.

Following on the progress of CS1, Clean Sky 2 – which represents a budget of €4 billion over seven years (2017 to 2024) – will deliver break-through technology which will be incorporated, from 2025 onwards, into future generations of aircraft

Fuelling Environmental Progress with Aeronautical Technology