Airbus Helicopters pursues new technologies and solutions to support the evolving needs of its operators and to reduce the environmental impact of its products and processes. Projects underway have shown promising results, from exploring technologies that cut CO2 emissions, to reducing helicopter sound levels, to setting new records for helicopter speed and range.
High-speed helicopter flight
The European Clean Sky 2 programme offers Airbus Helicopters a unique framework for developing a high-speed helicopter, drawing on long years of research and on the success of the X3. The goal: to combine vertical take-off and speed in safe conditions and at an optimised cost.
Sound reduction studies and low sound procedures
Airbus Helicopters rotorcraft are among the most silent helicopters in their class, with certified sound levels far below the applicable certification standards. Exploring ways to further reduce the external sound levels of its products is part of the company’s daily work.
Current research efforts focus on reducing noise at the source by optimizing the design and the operation of the main rotors and the anti-torque systems. One result of these efforts is the development of the Blue Edge ™ double-swept blade platform, which has demonstrated significant noise reduction in flight on a demonstrator aircraft.
Technologies such as these could eventually be applied to all helicopters.
Airbus Helicopters’ newest models, the H145 and the H175, already integrate much of the research results and perform well in terms of sound levels.
For example, the cumulative certification noise levels of the H145 have been decreased by 5 decibels compared to the previous version. The medium twin-engine H175 has Airbus Helicopters’ most ambitious low-noise rotor RPM scheduling law developed for a serial aircraft to date – making it among the quietest in its class.
Airbus Helicopters has also developed and tested several innovations via the Clean Sky Joint Technology Initiative, including low-noise flight procedures.
These new procedures allow the pilot to follow the path which best limits the impact of sound on the ground population. Within this approach, the short-term intention is to decrease the sound footprint of most flights by 30%, although the longer term target could see that reduction doubled.
Aerodynamic drag is responsible for a large part of the energy needed in a helicopter’s forward flight. Airbus Helicopters studies, designs, builds and tests multiple aerodynamic improvements to the current state-of-the-art helicopter design. Future products of Airbus Helicopters will be positively influenced by these research activities, which are undertaken in the frame of Clean Sky’s Green Rotorcraft initiative.
High compression piston engines
In line with its commitment to build the world’s most advanced rotorcraft, Airbus Helicopters is developing a demonstrator aircraft equipped with a lightweight, high-compression piston engine that will improve operating performance while simultaneously boosting overall eco-efficiency levels.
The engine – which began flight testing in 2015 as part of European Clean Sky initiative’s Green Rotorcraft Integrated Technology Demonstrator (ITD) program – incorporates numerous technologies that have already been applied on advanced self-ignition engines, and runs on the widely-available kerosene fuel used in aviation engines.
Other key features include dual-channel Full Authority Digital Engine Control (FADEC), fully-machined aluminum blocks and titanium connecting rods, pistons and liners made of steel, liquid-cooling and a dry sump management method for the lubricating motor oil as used on aerobatic aircraft and race cars.
Airbus Helicopters’ high-compression piston engine activity began in 2011, and was followed by company bench tests and system simulations, then ground runs with an H120-based technology demonstrator aircraft. The demonstrator aircraft took flight for the first time in November 2015.
In the frame of Clean Sky 2, Airbus Helicopters is designing a large-scale compound rotorcraft demonstrator dubbed LifeRCraft.
This demonstrator will feature a combination of a fixed wing for energy efficient lift, open propellers for energy-efficient propulsion, and a main rotor that provides energy-efficient VTOL (vertical takeoff and landing) flight capabilities.
Aerodynamic drag will be considerably reduced thanks to an aerodynamically optimized airframe design taking advantage of the results gained in Clean Sky’s Green Rotorcraft initiative.
The advanced design will enable a 50% higher cruise speed and up to a 12% reduction in kilometric fuel consumption and CO2 emissions, compared with conventional current-generation helicopters.
Airbus Helicopters leverages a continuous improvement program called Bluecopter to ensure its product line remains at the forefront of rotary-wing innovation, with a particular focus put on developing and validating advanced technologies that enhance environmental performance.
Many innovations have been deployed for the first time with Bluecopter, and their feasibility have been or are being confirmed during flight trials performed by a twin-engine rotary-wing demonstrator platform.
One such technology is a further evolution of Airbus Helicopters’ signature Fenestron® tail rotor, for which additional performance improvements have been achieved through optimized blade and stator designs.
The Bluecopter demonstrator aircraft also has introduced several measures for reducing aircraft aerodynamic drag – including fairings for the main rotor hub and the landing skids, a newly developed aft-body concept and the use of a specially-designed empennage with a T-tail horizontal stabilizer.
Bluecopter development has been accomplished in the framework of a short-term “skunkworks” project, largely covered by Airbus Helicopters self-funding. Certain technologies integrated into the demonstrator were pursued as part of Europe’s Clean Sky joint technology initiative and Germany’s LuFo-IV research program.
Alternative materials and new processes
Airbus Helicopters integrates major environmental aspects of a product’s life cycle early on in the design process. A concrete example of such Eco Design was tested in flight on Airbus Helicopters’ X3 high speed demonstrator by using natural flax fibers under hybrid composite materials. These technologies and derivatives could be applied on the next generation of helicopters.
Airbus Helicopters and its partners work together on the CORINE project to improve the environmental performance of the materials and processes used in the design and manufacturing of helicopters.
Via the Clean Sky initiative, Airbus Helicopters and its partners are assessing and developing solutions for recycling materials which currently and in the future will be used to build helicopters.
All of Airbus Helicopters’ production sites in Europe are certified by the ISO 14001 environmental management standard to effectively control and continuously reduce environmental impacts. In addition, Airbus Helicopters’ customer centers in Malaysia, Romania, Singapore, Canada and the United States are also ISO 14001 certified.
Airbus Helicopters’ sites in France, Spain and Germany fulfill the requirements of the energy management system ISO 50001 to use energy more efficiently.
Airbus Helicopters’ manufacturing sites have taken many steps to increase their environmental efficiency. Examples include the 16,000 square meters of photovoltaic panels installed above the car park area of the Marignane facility in France. In Donauwörth, Germany, the use of geothermal energy in the new A350 XWB doors building enables savings of 2.7 GWh per year. Combined heat and power plants were also installed on this site, as well as at the Querétaro site in Mexico, enabling cumulative savings of 3,000 tons of CO2 emissions per year.
Health, safety and protecting of the environment have always been main priorities for Airbus. Learn more about how we comply with the Seveso ordinance on hazardous substances (German only.)
The X3 high-speed hybrid demonstrator marked a new milestone in the company’s innovation roadmap, combining vertical takeoff and landing capabilities with a fast cruise speed of more than 255 kts. Learn about the history of the X3.
Also recently unveiled is Airbus Helicopters’ new H160 rotorcraft, which offers significantly improved performance, less fuel consumption, lower sound levels, and provides pilots with a new way of flying a helicopter.
Read more about the H160
History of the X3
19/06/2014. Airbus Helicopters’ X3 entered the French national Musée de l’Air et de l’Espace (Air and Space museum) of Paris-Le Bourget.
07/23/2012. Airbus Helicopters' revolutionary X3 helicopter arrived in Washington for final leg of aircraft's U.S. tour.
06/20/2012. Airbus Helicopters began the U.S. tour of its X3 high-speed hybrid helicopter.
06/12/2012. The Airbus Helicopters X3 hybrid aircraft arrived in the United States for a month-long tour to demonstrate this advanced high-speed transportation system’s unique operational capabilities for both civil and military operators.
05/03/2012. The American Helicopter Society (AHS) International awarded its annual recognition for helicopter technology improvement to Airbus Helicopters’ team that developed its X3 hybrid demonstrator aircraft.
06/14/2011. Airbus Helicopters’ innovation took to the skies at the Paris Air Show: the X3 hybrid demonstrator make its public flight debut.
05/16/2011. Airbus Helicopters’ X3 hybrid helicopter demonstrator delivered on the promise of pushing the frontiers in rotary-wing aviation by surpassing its original speed target of 220 kts. demonstrating the compound aircraft’s performance, capabilities and maturity.
12/09/2010. Speed objective of 180 kts is attained ahead of schedule for this innovative rotary-wing aircraft.
Open Innovation Program
Are you a creative small of medium-sized company (SME) looking to break into new markets? Submit your ideas through the Airbus Helicopters Open Innovation platform
The Airbus Helicopters Open Innovation initiative seeks to identify and quickly apply technological breakthroughs to the company’s products and services – with the aim of developing new markets and cultivating partnerships with dynamic, leading SMEs.
Selection is based on predefined criteria, which include the following: a sufficiently high degree of technological maturity, the possibility of a rapid return on investment, the ability to integrate the specific characteristics of the aerospace industry, and a positive impact on customer satisfaction and quality of service.
The Open Innovation platform offers the creators of selected projects a partnership with Airbus Helicopters through a predefined contractual framework encompassing specific aspects of innovation, such as the development of expertise and intellectual property, and the potential for industrial development over time.
Though the program is aimed primarily at small and medium-sized enterprises, it is open to all legal entities possessing a suitable industrial or scientific framework.
Currently oriented towards French companies, the program will very shortly be opened up to businesses around the world.
Sign up for the Open Innovation program or obtain more information at
“Airbus Helicopters has always sought to make SMEs an integral part of its industrial strategy, and the Open Innovation program is the latest proof of that. Thanks to a mutually beneficial and enriching partnership for all parties, it gives innovative SMEs an opportunity to make themselves known and develop.”
Airbus Helicopters Executive Vice President Engineering