Airbus Has Redesigned the Helicopter

Airbus Has Redesigned the Helicopter

Airbus flew its strange helicopter-airplane hybrid called Racer for the first time in Marseille, France on Monday. The aerospace manufacturer categorizes the aircraft as a high-speed compound helicopter demonstrator. Unlike conventional helicopters, the Racer features fixed wings with control surfaces and propulsive propellers. The maiden flight was only 30 minutes long but Airbus aims to open the Racer’s flight envelope over the next two years as development continues.

 

Racer – First Flight

As its name implies, the Racer is capable of reaching incredibly high speeds for a helicopter because of its propeller configuration. Airbus stated the compound helicopter’s current cruising speed is 248.5 miles per hour, less than 1 mph behind the current world record held by the Westland Lynx. However, fuel efficiency was the impetus for the program’s existence. Julien Guitton, the head of Airbus’ Racer program, said:

“The aim of the Racer is not to go as fast as possible, but to offer enhanced operational capabilities at the right price for missions where speed can really be an asset. When we ask end users whether high speeds are of interest to them, the answer is invariably ‘yes, but’. Speed at any price, without taking into account the economic and environmental impact, is of no interest to anyone.”

Photo: Airbus

The wing mounted to the Racer provides 40 percent of the total lift, allowing for what Airbus is calling Eco-Mode. The Racer can shut off one of its two engines in flight to reduce fuel consumption by 20 percent. While it is a slower flight mode, the aircraft would still be flying faster than a conventional helicopter. The second engine can also be restarted immediately if needed. Airbus claims that the Racer is more comfortable to fly in because of the reduced vibrations caused by the main rotor.

Aviation’s future seems to be heading in the direction of helicopter travel becoming even more commonplace. Airlines are hoping to offer commuter services from city centers to airports to passengers within a few years. Those plans center around semi-autonomous eVTOL aircraft. While electric helicopters have come a long way, the efficiency gains promised by the Racer’s innovations could prove useful for other aircraft.


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