“Our engineers have come a long way in making traditional technologies greener, working on a wide range of research projects that in some cases are already reducing emissions,” says Tomasz Krysinski, head of research and innovation at Airbus Helicopters. “The recently certified H160 is the cleaner and quieter helicopter in its class, paving the way for a reduced environmental footprint in helicopter operations”.
Integrating Airbus Helicopters’ latest technological innovations, the next generation medium twin H160 benefits from a 15% reduction in fuel burn, thanks to its Arrano engine by Safran Helicopter Engines, and a 50% reduction in exterior sound levels, thanks to its Blue Edge main rotor blades.
Krysinski cites other projects underway that aim to reduce fuel consumption through a combination of improved aerodynamics, weight reduction, and more efficient thermodynamic cycles, in hopes of one day integrating such improvements on other Airbus helicopter products.
According to Krysinski, the ultimate step is to go to another sort of energy, which could be hydrogen or fuel cells. This technology has made significant advances, particularly in the fixed wing segment, but the power requirements for a helicopter remain a challenge. That being said, Krysinski expects hydrogen technologies could be mature enough to fly on a helicopter demonstrator as early as 2029.
There is also the electrically-powered “eco-mode”, which enables the pausing and restarting of a gas turbine in flight on twin-engine helicopters. Developed with Safran Helicopter Engines, and first tested on the Bluecopter demonstrator (an H135 testbed), this technology will generate fuel savings while increasing the range of helicopters. The “eco-mode” will be tested next on the Racer high-speed demonstrator currently being developed in the frame of the Clean Sky 2 European research programme, and which aims to reach a 220kt cruise speed while cutting CO2, NOx and noise emissions by 20%, when compared to current helicopters.