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Rocketing to a greener future for helicopters

Rocketing to a greener future for helicopters - News

Our range of Helicopter Rides and Flying Lessons are undoubtedly some of our most popular packages we offer for flying days and experiences here on FlyDays, with an appeal across young and old aviation enthusiasts alike.

But just as there’s been recent talk about how cars and other vehicles can make the move to being more sustainable to operate and drive, so too has there been similar discussions about our friends with three or four rotor blades at their roofs becoming more environmentally friendly.

And a new report released by the aerospace firm Airbus this week has lots of encouraging findings on this front, with a vast number of options being considered and developed by aerospace engineers and scientists.

Tomasz Krysinski, who is the Head of Research and Innovation at Airbus’ helicopter division, has noted that several research projects have already resulted in them releasing some of their air-cleanest helicopters around.

The most recent of these is their new H160 model, which passed its EASA (European Union Aviation Safety Agency) approval at the beginning of July this year. This particular helicopter offers a 15% reduction in fuel burn and emissions, thanks to the new twin Arrano engine that it’s been kitted out with.

Whilst that’s not a massive figure, particularly in line with broader goals for the aviation industry as a whole to reduce CO2 emissions, it’s a promising start. One thing the H160 does also offer is a greater reduction in noise pollution, as its Blue Edge main rotor blades cut out up to 50% of external air noise.

We’ve got a step forward for today. What about the long term future? Airbus’ report also cites that other sources of power besides fuel - e.g. hydrogen, fuel cells - are being considered and tested.

Of course, it goes without saying that helicopters use up far more energy than a fixed wing aircraft does (there’s at least 72 moving parts in the rotor blades alone), which remains one of the biggest challenges that aerospace engineers have to overcome in all of this.

That said, there’s a lot to suggest that, if testing and development keeps showing the positive results it is now and technology becomes more refined, then by 2029 at the earliest, helicopter demonstrators could be powered exclusively on hydrogen.

So that’s one possible avenue. What, you may be asking, are the chances of a totally hybrid powered helicopter? Well again, much of it is intense and quite complex development and testing at this stage, and because of the mass and volume of a helicopter, you need to be absolutely sure that it is storing its energy efficiently enough.

If you think about how much fuel a conventionally powered helicopter uses, it’ll need that equivalent volume in batteries, which could add up to as much of a third of its total weight, and thus would make it harder to get airborne safely.

But Airbus have already got one fully electric demonstrator helicopter in their fleet already, which suggests these developments in technology may come sooner than we think. Their CityAirbus model, a four seater multicopter, had its first untethered flight in December last year.

This has undoubtedly helped, in that it has offered more insight into cracking some of the greater conundrums surrounding safe and efficiently powered hybrid helicopters. Just think - we may just be a few years away from seeing the first proper electric powered helicopter.

We’re confident that with their continued hard work and research into making the impossible possible for aviation, that Airbus could even be powering the helicopters on the flying days and experiences of FlyDays’ future.

25 September 2020
Flydays

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