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First tests complete for City Airbus propulsion system

Airbus Helicopters has completed the first full-scale tests for the electric-powered propulsion system on its City Airbus demonstrator, ahead of a planned maiden flight next year.

Conducted at the manufacturer's facility in Donauwörth, Germany, the trials assessed the performance of the individual ducted fans. In addition, checks were carried out on the integration of a full-scale propulsion unit with two fans, 100kW electric motor and all electrical systems.

Designed to perform vertical take-offs and landings with four people on board, the City Airbus concept is aimed at improving urban mobility in congested mega-cities, says the manufacturer.

Power on of the first full-scale demonstrator aircraft is planned in early 2018, to be followed by a series of ground tests which will culminate in an unmanned first flight before year-end.

The airframer has already accumulated around 200h of flight time using a scaled mock-up of the design.

Airbus Helicopters anticipates achieving service entry for the 2t maximum take-off weight platform in 2023.

It will initially be a piloted aircraft "to ease certification and public acceptance" before fully autonomous operations are introduced later in the next decade.

Meanwhile, Airbus Helicopters will next week begin trialling a new internally developed advanced sensor-fusion package linked to a rotorcraft's flight-control computers.

Initially designed to automate and stabilise approaches, take-offs and landings, it will ultimately pave the way for autonomous flights.

Called Eagle – or Eye for Autonomous Guidance and Landing Extension – it combines a gyro-stabilised optronics package, which includes three high-resolution cameras and state-of-the-art processors, with on-board video analytics. This allows advanced capabilities such as object detection and tracking, and digital noise reduction.

Future versions of Eagle will gain a Lidar system to allow objection detection and 3D terrain reconstruction.

Airbus Helicopters believes the system will increase situational awareness and cut pilot workload during approaches.

“While existing missions such as search and rescue and offshore transportation will benefit from Eagle’s capabilities, the system will also help address future requirements for operations in urban environments”, says Tomasz Krysinski, Airbus Helicopters vice-president for research and technology.

“Ultimately, thanks to its ability to provide increased situation awareness, Eagle will also contribute to improve the safety, autonomy and performance of future unmanned vehicles.”

Ground tests of Eagle began in May with flights aboard an H225M testbed to start shortly.

"The value we can add is coupling [the sensors] with the autopilot. It is the first step to full autonomy," says Krysinski.

At this stage, no helicopter has been selected to launch Eagle, but Krysinski says the company's programme directors are "queuing up" to use the technology.

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