With the major helicopter manufacturers pursuing high-speed rotorcraft technology, the inevitable questions here at Heli-Expo in Orlando are when will they be available for the civil market and will commercial operators want increased speed?
Sikorsky has completed flights of the X2 Technology coaxial-rotor demonstrator, reaching 250kt, and is developing its first military application, the X2 Raider armed scout. Eurocopter has reached 180kt with the X3 hybrid helicopter and will resume flying in the second quarter, aiming for 220kt. And AgustaWestland remains committed to restarting development of the 275kt-cruise BA609 civil tiltrotor. X3 (Photo: Eurocopter)
“We are not in the race for speed” with the X3 demonstrator, says Eurocopter president and CEO Lutz Bertling. "Just being faster cannot be the objective." The hybrid helicopter is all about productivity, he says. Compared to the EC155 it could increase payload-times-range per flight hour by 50%, with a cost per flight hour only 25% higher. “The point is the increase in cost for more speed is less than the value of the increase in productivity,” he explains.
It's not just about speed, says AgustaWestand CEO Guiseppe Orsi, the aircraft also has to go higher to be valuable, so it needs to be pressurized. "We still believe the tiltrotor is the most credible solution," he says. The company its pushing partner Bell to transfer ownership of the BA609 to AgustaWestland so it can restart the stalled flight-test program and set a firm certification date.X2 concept (Sikorsky)
Sikorsky president Jeff Pino is in no doubt about the value of the X2's speed, lift and agility to the military market, and its investing company and supplier funds to build and fly two X2 Raider prototypes by 2014. But "the commercial value [of X2] is not readily apparent," he says. The problem is the power (and fuel) needed to go fast. Speed equals gas equals cost, he says.
But Pino thinks the X2 could find yet civil application in the emergency medical service market, where its higher speed would extend the range of the life-saving "Golden Hour" by 2.5 times.