Comment: Speed – a question of money

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When Mel "Mad Max" Gibson visits a lonely desert mechanic in search of serious horsepower, a sign above the door sums it all up: "Speed is a question of money - how fast do you want to go?"

The question aptly sums up the dilemma facing the big helicopter companies today. The traditional, well-optimised helicopter configuration is inherently slow. Speeding the machines up is about changing their basic design, and that doesn't come cheap.

Eurocopter thinks it has the answer. Its H3 concept combines straightforward rotorcraft lift with horizontal thrust from a pair of side-mounted rotors.

bell/agusta ba609 tiltrotor, bell/agusta

 © Bell/Agusta
 © Eurocopter
 Speed is a question of money. Operators - how fast do you want to go?

Eurocopter's assessment of rival approaches sees the Sikorsky X2, with its contra-rotating rotors and pusher prop, or Bell-Boeing, or Bell-Agusta, tiltrotor involving much more mechanical complexity, and hence acquisition and operating cost. In presenting the H3, chief executive Lutz Bertling says he's confident the market will vote with its wallets and go with Eurocopter's "more cost-effective" approach.

Bertling would say that, but his arguments are compelling. And Eurocopter doesn't control a heavy half of the world's civil and paramilitary helicopters without consistently out-manoeuvring its rivals.

But is there really a market for fast rotorcraft, even if they cost only 25% more than conventional machines? Operators - how fast do you want to go?