Eurocopter X4 promises technical tour-de-force

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Eurocopter boss Lutz Bertling is crystal-clear about what drives the company, "We don't sell helicopters. We sell mission capability." Then, he adds: "To stay ahead, innovate, innovate, innovate - and innovation means customer value. No gimmicks."

Bertling was speaking in Paris earlier this year about the X3 hybrid helicopter technology demonstrator, which, he stresses, is a project not about speed - it is about cost-effective speed. No doubt when he unveils the much-anticipated X4 high-technology concept he will similarly promise a mix of advanced engineering and bottom-line value.

Until the launch, which may or may not be at the Paris air show in June, Eurocopter is revealing little about the concept set to replace its AS365 Dauphin medium twin. Bertling promises the machine will be a revolutionary step forward in technology, a "game changer" with a "completely different" way of flying. He has also suggested the aim will be to make a technology step-change as dramatic as the introduction by Airbus of fly-by-wire flight control. In Paris earlier this year, he also said the X4 would be Turbomeca-powered.

eurocopter as365 dauphin, anthony pecchi/eurocopter
 © Anthony Pecchi/Eurocopter
Eurocopter is revealing little about the concept set to replace its AS365 Dauphin medium twin

Clearly, Eurocopter intends to improve on the capabilities of the twin-Turbomeca Arriel 2C-powered Dauphin, which it describes as "a fast and powerful helicopter with long-range capabilities... particularly well-adapted to operations in high altitudes and hot climates". Beyond that, the machine will be a surprise, although Eurocopter's technology development channels may provide some guidance. Visitors to last year's Farnborough air show may recall Eurocopter's full-size mock-up of a diesel-powered helicopter. It is far from clear that Eurocopter will feature diesel development at model launch stage, especially for a Dauphin-sized machine. Bertling has, however, promised 2011 will see the validation of diesel engines in light helicopters under the company's Bluecopter technology development programme. Bluecopter concepts that could feature on the X4 include improvements in noise, vibration and performance through the Blue Pulse and Blue Edge blade programmes. Blue Edge is claimed to be a breakthrough concept in main rotor blades, with a double-swept design that cuts noise and improves performance by passively reducing blade vortex interaction. Blue Pulse is an active concept, in which moveable flaps on the blades provide automatic blade tracking for the entire flight envelope. Eurocopter claims the result to be a significant reduction of blade vortex interaction in all descent conditions. The system is also claimed to reduce cabin vibrations to "near-to-jet" smoothness.

For the X4, Eurocopter is also working on pilot assistance functions such as flight situational awareness and advanced laws to automate flight control. Objectives include easier piloting and enhanced safety when near the ground or fixed or mobile obstacles - hover and low-speed manoeuvres such as oil rig final approaches, for example - particularly in degraded visual conditions. Techniques being developed to provide crew with continuous monitoring of the environment include 3D synthetic vision, 2D digital navigation management displays, a helicopter-specific tunnel for flight guidance, automatic mission re-planning in case of detected hazards and a 4D autopilot guidance module.