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Racer high-speed helicopter accelerates towards first flight

Airbus Helicopters remains on track to perform the first flight of its Racer high-speed rotorcraft in 2020 having achieved an initial development milestone earlier this year.

A preliminary design review was passed in July, says Tomasz Krysinski, head of research and innovation at the manufacturer, which is leading the Racer programme under the EU's Clean Sky 2 initiative.

The effective design freeze has enabled Airbus Helicopters and its suppliers to start manufacturing long-lead items.

These include the compound rotorcraft's 3m (10ft)-long lateral drive shafts – linking the main gearbox to the wing-mounted pusher props – which are being made in house by the airframer.

Spain's Aernnova, meanwhile, has begun fabricating composite structural parts for the aircraft's horizontal and vertical stabilisers.

Development activities on the 2,500shp (1,870kW) Safran Helicopter Engines Aneto-1X powerplant – two of which will be used on the Racer – are also continuing.

A critical design review of the Racer is scheduled for 2019, which will allow ground testing and final assembly to also kick off next year; a first flight will follow in 2020.

Around 200h of flight testing is envisaged, says David Alfano, Racer programme manager, as the airframer assesses the aircraft's suitability for three core missions: passenger transport; parapublic and law enforcement; and emergency medical services/search and rescue.

A cruise speed of 220kt (407km/h) is the target for the 7-8t-class helicopter, which, says Krysinski, offers the "optimum balance" between fuel consumption and the "productivity" of the aircraft.

However, restrictions imposed by the public funding of Clean Sky 2 mean that the Racer's design can only be taken to technology readiness level 6, rather than fully commercialised, says Krysinski.

With British companies and research organisations also involved in the Racer development, there are concerns that the UK's planned exit from the EU in March 2019 could jeopardise their future participation.

"For us this is a really important question," says Andrzej Podsadowski, project officer for fast rotorcraft within Clean Sky 2. "We depend to a large extent on universities, research centres and industry in the UK."

So far, politicians have given assurances that UK participation in research projects such as Clean Sky 2 will continue, even in the case of a problematic no-deal Brexit, but Podsadowski notes that he will have to abide by whatever politicians eventually decide. "But we live with hope – nothing is fixed."

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