FARNBOROUGH: Airbus leads Clean Sky 2 rotorcraft development effort

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Airbus Helicopters is planning a rapid return for the technology employed on its record-breaking X3 compound rotorcraft demonstrator that flew off into graceful retirement last month.

During an almost three-year test campaign the X3 - which features a pair of propellers mounted on stubby wings alongside a set of standard rotors on a AS365 Dauphin fuselage - captured numerous speed records, with the rotorcraft being taken to 255kt (472km/h) on 7 June last year.

It has since been handed over to France's Musée de l’Air et de l’Espace at Paris Le Bourget airport.

But now Airbus Helicopters will utilise the technologies validated during the X3's 155h of flights to lead the development of a brand-new high-speed rotorcraft under the auspices of the European Commission's Clean Sky 2 programme, which was given the green light last week.

Dubbed LifeRcraft by the airframer - or low impact fast and efficient rotorcraft - it is targeting a cruise speed of 220kt. Clean Sky 2 calls for preliminary studies, architecture and specifications this year with development and testing of components and subsystems envisioned in the 2016-2018 timeframe, says the airframer. Flight evaluations could start in early 2019, it says.

“There is a lot of value in the application of compound helicopters not only in terms of performance, but they also offer a high level of safety and reliability,” said Airbus Helicopters chief executive Guillame Faury in a Farnborough briefing. “In hostile environments, such as search and rescue, coastguard and border patrol and offshore operations, these characteristics are vital.”

Launched in 2008, Clean Sky is a multi-year partnership involving the European Commission and Europe’s aviation industry. It is designed develop the technologies that will enable the next generation of low emission and low noise aircraft.

Clean Sky 2 is planned to run from 2014 to 2023 with €4.05 billion ($5.55 billion) in funding - €1.8 billion from the European Union and the rest from industry.

Meanwhile, Faury says the airframer is determined to repair its reputation following the ditching of two EC225s in the North Sea in May and October 2012 which led to an eight-month fleet-wide grounding. The cause of the two incidents was later traced to failure of the bevel gear vertical shaft in the helicopter’s main gearbox.

“We have used this [intervening] period to challenge ourselves,” he says. “We have learned a lesson and we are always striving to raise the bar in terms of customer service and quality of our products.”

Airbus Helicopters has already begun to retrofit the key gearbox component across the 11t type’s global fleet and all Super Pumas manufactured from the beginning of July are fitted with a redesigned shaft that incorporates a number of safety improvements.