Airbus Helicopters insists that its Racer high-speed technology demonstrator is still on track to meet a revised first flight deadline of late 2021, despite some development items lagging behind schedule.

Under the company’s previous schedule, the Racer was due to perform its maiden sortie in 2020.

Racer-c-Airbus Helicopters

Source: Airbus Helicopters

Part of the EU’s Clean Sky 2 programme, the Racer is a compound helicopter design featuring twin pusher propellers mounted on V-shaped box-wings.

In an article on the Clean Sky website, Brice Makinadjian, Airbus Helicopters chief engineer for the Racer effort, says that the development of the main gearbox is one of two items that are running late. However, he stresses that this should have no impact on the overall programme, which passed its critical design review (CDR) milestone last year.

“The first one is the main gearbox, where we are a bit late in terms of maturity of the design – we are not yet at the CDR level – but there is no impact on the global development of the demonstrator.

“This is because we have secured the external interfaces of the main gearbox so that we can progress the development of the whole aircraft – the gearbox will come later in the assembly,” he says.

The other item is the lateral drive line, which links the main gearbox with the lateral gearbox to drive the propeller at the end of each wing.

Balance tests of the component were carried out in 2019, while fatigue and endurance tests “to check that we can rely on this design for the test campaign” will follow this year, says Makinadjian.

Nonetheless, major structural sections are currently being produced by Airbus Helicopters’ partners across the continent.

In Romania, INCAS and Romaero – both headquartered in Bucharest – are constructing the fuselage, while Aernnova and Airbus Helicopters in Spain are manufacturing and assembling the tail boom in order to begin static testing.

“The fuselage will be delivered to our factory in the middle of 2020, and we will then officially start the Racer’s assembly sequence,” says Makinadjian.

He anticipates that from mid-2020 it will take around 12 months to obtain the necessary flight clearance for the helicopter, leading to a maiden sortie in the fourth quarter of 2021.

Airbus Helicopters is additionally constructing a mission demonstrator for the Racer in order to “stimulate the market”.

If the market response is positive, this could spur the manufacturer to launch a full commercial development based on the Racer’s technology, says Makinadjian.

Under Clean Sky rules, demonstrator aircraft funded by the programme can only be taken to technology readiness level 6 – short of full industrialisation.

Airbus Helicopters hopes the 7-8t-class Racer can achieve a cruise speed of around 220kt (407km/h).

It will be powered by twin Safran Helicopter Engines Aneto-1X powerplants, one of which can be shut down – and rapidly restarted – in forward flight to cut fuel consumption. This will allow the helicopter to meet ambitious environmental targets, which require 20% lower emissions of CO2 and NOx.

Airbus Helicopters has previously indicated that the Racer would require around 200h of flight testing.