July 09, 2012
Credit: Credit: Eurocopter
Douglas Nelms Grand Prairie, Texas
Conventional wisdom is being challenged on both sides of the Atlantic, where Sikorsky's X2 and now Eurocopter's X3 are showing that helicopters need not be slow and that a 50% increase in speed is achievable at reasonable cost. The prospect of cruising at 220 kt., not today's 150 kt., has both commercial and military helicopter operators seriously interested, particularly for long-range missions.
View a video of the X-3 in flight.
The X3, or “X-cubed,” is a technology demonstrator designed to validate Eurocopter's High-speed, long-range Hybrid Helicopter, or H3, concept, says Jean-Jacques Ferrier, head of innovation. The H3 would be a family of helicopters ranging from 5-14 tons for markets such as long-range search and rescue, deep offshore oil and gas exploitation, corporate transport and military missions.
Hybrid helicopter technology will allow Eurocopter “to offer our customers about 50% more cruise speed and range at very affordable costs,” says President and CEO Lutz Bertling. The company's goal is an increase in life-cycle cost of only 20-25%. The H3 will “increase productivity as long as the benefit of those higher speeds outweighs the cost of purchasing, operating and maintaining the machine. The overall mission price will thus be significantly decreased whenever mission time is a determining factor,” he says.
Aviation Week was given the opportunity to fly the X3 shortly after it arrived at American Eurocopter's headquarters in Grand Prairie, Texas, in mid-June to begin a U.S. marketing tour. This was to include demonstrations to the U.S. military at Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, Ala., home of the Army's Aviation & Missile Command; Fort Bragg, N.C.; and Fort Belvoir, Va., just a few miles south of the Pentagon.
The basic principle of the X3 is that two propellers provide forward thrust while wings, albeit short, produce lift that reduces the load on the rotor. The lift provided by the wings increases with speed, reducing the load on the rotor by 40-50%. It is this reduction in blade loading that enables the X3 to fly faster.