Eurocopter has made clear it has no intention of letting rivals loosen its grip on the civil rotorcraft market with the unveiling of its much-anticipated high-technology solution to the challenge of boosting helicopter speeds.
Eurocopter's answer to the Sikorsky X2 pusher or Bell-Boeing V22 Osprey tiltrotor is the H3 - High-speed Hybrid Helicopter - concept, which features a five-blade main rotor for vertical lift and single propellers mounted to short fixed wings either side for speed, with Eurocopter promising sustained cruise at more than 220kts.
The H3 demonstrator, called X3, has been flying at the French DGA's Istres flight testing centre since 6 September. Initial testing will continue through December with reduced power, progressively opening the flight envelope to approximately 180kt (330km/h). Then, after a three-month upgrade, X3 flights will resume in March 2011 with the goal of reaching 220kt in sustained cruise.
Chief executive Lutz Bertling says the Eurocopter approach is to extend range and boost speed without an excessive penalty in acquisition and operating costs which, he contends, is not the case with the tiltrotor approach: "It only makes sense if what you gain in speed is not overcompensated by what you add in costs."
Eurocopter sees the H3 configuration proving suitable for long-range search and rescue, coastguard duties, border patrol, passenger transport and inter-city shuttle services. Military applications benefiting from vertical take-off and landing and cruise speed could include special forces operations, troop transport, combat SAR and medical evacuation.
"This is the future of Eurocopter," says Bertling.
To keep development costs down, the EADS-owned rotorcraft manufacturer has adapted existing components for the X3, including the airframe (from the Dauphin 365), main rotor (EC155) and main gearbox module (EC175), which has had lateral take-offs added for the lateral propulsion propellers.