While Airbus Helicopters pursues development of two fully electric VTOL aircraft — Vahana and CityAirbus — the company is also working toward incorporating a hybrid electric propulsion system on one of its single-engine helicopters.
In a jointly funded research project announced at the 2019 Paris Air Show, Airbus Helicopters and the French Ministry for Transport (DGAC) will equip an H130 helicopter with an electric backup system capable of powering the rotor system for up to 30 seconds, without the use of the main gas turbine. The demonstration package will include an electric motor provided by Thales, a battery pack developed by Airbus Defence and Space, and electric converters provided by Adeneo.
The research project aims to mature the concept to Technology Readiness Level 6, or demonstration of a prototype in a relevant environment. Airbus and the DGAC are aiming for first flight of their H130 demonstrator in 2020.
“The helicopter industry is transforming at a fast pace and I’m very excited about this new partnership with DGAC which helps us prepare the future of vertical flight,” stated Airbus Helicopters CEO Bruno Even in a press release announcing the project. “If introduced on serial helicopters, this technology could deliver new standards in terms of safety by providing pilots of single-engine rotorcraft more flexibility to perform autorotation in case of an engine shutdown.”
Even added that further evolutions of the technology could pave the way to a significant reduction in fuel consumption and sound levels, further increasing the acceptance of helicopters in urban environments. Airbus is currently using its on-demand helicopter service Voom to gain experience and insights that can later be applied to eVTOL air taxi operations.
Elisabeth Borne, French Minister for Transport within the Ministry of Ecological and Inclusive Transition, said that the research project with Airbus will result in technologies that will be essential for the development of a new generation of cleaner helicopters.
“Thanks to the engagement of the French government and our business partners, France is demonstrating the leading role it intends to play for better environmental performance within our aviation sector,” she stated.