Competition among European helicopter manufacturers to seize the initiative in future rotor blade technology is hotting up as both Westland and Eurocopter plough cash into research programmes.

Westland Helicopters and the UK Ministry of Defence are each investing $12.8 million in the third and final phase of a joint research programme.

Westland has secured prime contractor status on the British Experimental Rotor Programme IV (BERP IV). The study will provide a technology demonstrator to look at the next generation of advanced composite rotor blades aimed at delivering significant performance and cost benefits.

Westland will work with partners including QinetiQ as part of a multi-disciplinary design team. The third phase is expected to run until mid-2007.

Westland says the BERP IV programme will aim to reduce first and life cycle costs, cut vibration and improve hover and cruise performance. The research team plans to equip a testbed EH101 with BERP IV blades, with first flight in 2006.

The BERP IV initiative dates back as far as 1997, when studies began into a range of technologies. Phase two, which was completed last year, shortlisted and matured those technologies considered suitable for embedding in future designs.


Rival Eurocopter has revealed its own plans to devote funding to rotor blade research. Eurocopter is aiming to fly a technology demonstrator within two years as it seeks to develop a civil helicopter up to 9dB quieter than current internationally ratified noise limits.

Eurocopter has dubbed its prototype the 'neighbourly helicopter' and says it will feature an advanced blade design and active rotor and engine control. Development is centred on the composite blades whose tips are slanted back by about 15°. The twisted, swept tips combine with an active servo flap in the trailing edge to reduce noise.

Source: Flight Daily News