Airbus Pushing Electric, Noise Advances for Vertical Lift

By James T. McKenna | June 22, 2017
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Airbus CityBus taxi

Airbus CityAirbus taxi

Airbus Helicopters is pushing technological applications for electrical power and noise-mitigation advances for its next-generation vertical-flight aircraft.

Two aircraft projects briefed this week at the Paris Air Show highlight Airbus’ initiatives on electric power and noise mitigation: its newly revealed Rapid And Cost-Effective Rotorcraft (or Racer) and the CityAirbus air taxi.


A third project is further evidence of this technological push: the electric-powered Vahana single-passenger autonomous vertical takeoff and landing being developed by A3 (“A-cubed”), Airbus Group’s advanced projects outpost in Silicon Valley. The company is targeting Vahana for a first flight later this year.

The projects encompass a broad range of Airbus’ technological initiatives, according to senior executives of the company who spoke this week at Le Bourget. This broad range includes greater use of predictive analytics to help improve vertical-flight aircraft life cycles, advanced designs of dynamic components that could reduce maintenance costs and higher levels of integration of aircraft propulsion systems and flight controls.

The projects also are part of broader trend in the rotorcraft industry to invest in the aircraft capabilities that customers will want tomorrow at a time when demand for current products, like the highest-yield medium- and heavy-class helicopters. Bell Helicopter earlier this year revealed its FCX-001, a notional rotorcraft intended to focus the company's various innovation initiatives and test the market on those applications for which customers might actually pay.

The high-speed Racer is part of the European Union’s Clean Sky 2 research program to develop cutting-edge technology aimed at reducing aircraft CO2 gas emissions and noise levels. The innovations the aircraft is expected to employ, Airbus officials said, include a high-voltage generator that would enable the quick restart of one of the helicopter’s two turboshaft engines in the flight.

The Racer’s operational concept includes shutting down one engine in cruise flight to increase efficiency and fuel burn as well as aerodynamics, since the helicopter’s twin pusher props would provide thrust in the crew stage and its boxed-wing configuration would provide substantial lift. The 200-volt, direct-current generator would enable that performance by ensuring a fast restart should the second engine be needed. (It also might provide additional power for "connected" services like streaming video in the cabin and advanced flight management capabilities in the cockpit.)

The design of CityAirbus’ mockup is notable for the shrouds around its four main rotors, part of the manufacturers’ efforts to reduce the aircraft noise signature (particularly in the range of noise admissions that are particularly irritating to human physiology).

CityAirbus also will use lessons of Airbus’ Blue Edge project, which built on the research of the French and German agencies ONERA and DLR to develop reduced noise-signature, high-efficiency rotor blades. An added element of the aircraft's noise-mitigation capabilities lay advanced integration of its flight controls and power-management systems.

Airbus plans to begin full-scale “iron bird” systems integration tests of CityAirbus this year and conduct unmanned flight tests next year. Its current goal is to conduct the first flight of Racer in 2020.

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