UK would-be manufacturer Hill Helicopters has unveiled the first two completed airframes of its HX50 light-single.

Displayed at an event on 6 December, the finished fuselages are the latest sign of progress from the start-up.

Hill grab-c-Hill Helicopters

Source: Hill Helicopters

Two HX50s were displayed at the 6 December event

Featuring a three-blade main rotor and shrouded tail rotor, the HX50 is pitched at private customers and is designed to “make flying exciting again”, says founder and chief executive Dr Jason Hill, who describes the helicopter as a “greatest hits album”.

Considerable effort has been taken to refine the aerodynamic performance of the helicopter, says Dr Hill, including cowlings around the main rotor mast and hub, plus other tweaks to maintain the boundary layer air flow around the fuselage.

Vertical integration is key to the company’s model: to “control costs end to end” it intends to make in house most of the aircraft, including the transmission and its internally developed 500shp (370kW) GT50 engine.

“It’s not about the science and engineering – it’s all about the manufacturing. Aerospace companies need to be manufacturing companies – they can’t be technology companies that push the manufacturing out to third parties,” he says.

Hill Helicopters hopes to fly its first prototype in 2024, but that hinges on first validating the engine.

To date, ground runs of the powerplant have yet to take place; Dr Hill says tests of the combustor system will begin “in the coming weeks” and will then be followed by full engine tests. The firm had previously planned to conduct its first engine runs this year.

Hill Helicopters estimates that the GT50 will require around 1,000h of bench testing prior to installation in the first prototype.

Restricted to private operators, the HX50, to be delivered from 2025, will not be a fully certificated aircraft – although built to CS-27 standards – Hill Helicopters will seek UK Civil Aviation Authority approval for an identical variant called the HC50.

Due to arrive by the end of 2026, the HC50 will be available for commercial use. Orders have previously been limited to existing customers for the HX50, but the company has now opened up sales to the general public at a list price of £725,000 ($912,000).

As of 6 December, Hill Helicopters had taken 975 orders: 789 for the HX50 and 186 for the HC50.

Hill Helicopters had intended to build and deliver the HX50 and HC50 from a purpose-built factory in Cresswell near Stoke-on-Trent in the English Midlands.

However, difficulties in obtaining planning permission for the site, particularly related to the proposed flight activities, “proved quite problematic”, and have prompted a change of tack, says Dr Hill.

“We have fought that as long as we can and it was time to change direction to get control of that before it became something that was going to dominate timescales.”

Instead, the company will lease additional manufacturing space near to its current Rugeley development centre and ship completed helicopters to a new flight operations centre at Halfpenny Green airport, around 35km (21 miles) away.