Airbus Helicopters appears to be one of the main beneficiaries of the French government’s support measures for its aerospace industry, with funding to develop a low-emission hybrid engine succeeding its best-seller H125 Ecurueil, a light single, plus orders for 20 rotorcraft from its current range.Part of a larger € 15 billion ($ 17 billion) package to support the industry in the face of the “brutal” aerospace downturn following the coronavirus pandemic, the boost from the 1.5 billion euros in research and development covers commercial aviation, business aircraft, propulsion and helicopters and aims to make France a world leader in green aviation.
For Airbus Helicopters, this means that the government will support a successor to the “best-selling” H125. It is expected to be very efficient – offering 40% less fuel consumption today – and capable of initially using a hybrid powertrain. Hydrogen fuel is planned for a later version, a demonstrator of which is expected to arrive in 2029, according to the plan of the Ministry of the Economy. “With this support plan, France can therefore both preserve R&D jobs and the skills of its aeronautical sector and approach the energy transition as a technical and industrial leader”, specifies the ministry.
The essential shift towards tomorrow’s cleaner, greener, quieter aviation will extensively draw on the increased use of electricity on board aircraft. This is a critical field in which Thales is a frontline player, delivering electrical generation and conversion systems, along with electrical motors for actuators and propulsion systems.
According to Alain-Jory Barthe, who heads up Thales’s Electrical Systems activity, the demand for onboard electrical systems has rapidly evolved and will continue to do so: “Planes have already become and are set to become more and more electric, and therefore have growing needs for electrical power and generation. This major trend began twenty years ago and now extends to additional requirements for advanced propulsion techniques such as hybridization, Ultra High Bypass Ratio turbo fans, and electric propulsion on VTOL (Vertical Takeoff and Landing) mobility platforms. These are all areas that are having a strong impact in terms of power generation and conversion, as well as regarding electrical motors.”
Engine hybridization is one key, high-potential area. The ability to switch between standalone thermal engines and electrically-assisted motors will result in increased performance, overall energy efficiency and optimized onboard weight. As a first implementation, work has been in progress since 2018 with Airbus Helicopters on the e.Drive electrical motor concept (pictured below), designed to be used in case of engine failure on single-engine helicopters. This capability would enable these more economical helicopters to be greenlighted for use in urban areas.
The “Helybrid” H125 project appears to build on a previous program that incorporated backup electric propulsion into the slightly larger Airbus H130. The H130 shares a number of common drivetrain components with the H125. Revealed last year, the hybrid H130 is being developed in cooperation with Thales (electric motor) and Adeneo (electric converters). The hybrid H125 is targeting a 40 percent reduction in fuel consumption. A hydrogen-powered version is expected to fly by 2029.
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