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IPFS News Link • Transportation: Air Travel

This Bonkers Half-Helicopter, Half-Airplane Just Completed Its First Flight


Who said sustainability and speed can't go together?

The Racer just launched a new era for high-speed helicopters—or, more accurately, a new version of mixed-design aircraft.  First announced in 2017Airbus's experimental aircraft made its first flight recently, hitting the aerospace giant's performance and sustainability targets. It also made its first public display yesterday in Marseille, France.

"The aim of the Racer is not to go as fast as possible," said Julien Guitton, who heads up the program, in a statement. "We wanted to offer enhanced operational capabilities at the right price for missions where speed can really be an asset."

In other words: Speed is important, but not the most important feature. Clients want a fast helicopter, but "speed at any price," says Guitton, is "of no interest to anyone."

The Racer was launched as part of Europe's Clean Sky 2 program which, along with Airbus, involved 40 partner companies from 13 European countries. The project began with a very ambitious goal of achieving a 20 percent reduction in fuel consumption and CO2 emissions, compared with a conventional helicopter of the same weight. The design team also wanted the Racer to have a significant reduction in its noise and vibration.

To achieve this, the designers created what they call a "compound" design, which involved an unusual combination of a helicopter rotor, fixed wings, an aerodynamic fuselage, and rear-racing propellers. The Racer also has hybrid propulsion along with a custom engine management system and autopilot.

Using the engine management system lifts propulsion to its most efficient output for both speed and fuel burn, while the autopilot coordinates the Racer's diverse features to assure its best flight performance. The aircraft went through multiple simulations, and in April, the first flight tests were held to see if the prototype met the design's initial performance and efficiency goals. It did.

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