Airbus has started flight testing an engine back-up system for helicopters onboard its Flightlab testbed.
The test campaign’s main target is to enhance flight safety of single engine operations by providing emergency electrical power in case of a turbine failure.
In addition, the project opens the way to a future hybridized propulsion system for light helicopters while delivering flight safety improvements in the short term.
The Flightlab helicopter has been equipped with a 100Kw electric motor connected to the main gearbox, which can provide electrical power for 30 seconds in the event of engine failure. By giving the pilot extra time to react and maintain rotor speed, the engine back-up system (EBS) contributes to a safer and smoother autorotation maneuver to the ground.
The flight testing will include the simulation of engine failure in different flight conditions, including takeoff and landing procedures and corresponding limitations.
While evaluating the safety margins and performance benefits, the flight campaign also aims to demonstrate a performance increase, thanks to the prompt electric power input. The potential benefit in terms of Maximum Take-Off Weight is to compensate for the mass of the engine back-up system itself and to provide helicopter operators with additional payload.
“The engine back-up system is a good example of the incremental approach in our innovation strategy”, said Tomasz Krysinski, head of research and innovation at Airbus Helicopters. “The current EBS flights are a very important first step towards a future hybrid propulsion system and we already foresee a second phase of the project with more energy and power on board.
“We are looking at developing a fully parallel hybrid propulsion system mixing thermal and electrical energy together with the aim of optimising fuel consumption and enabling hybrid single engine flights over urban areas”.
Because the EBS flight test campaign is also looking at ways of easing the possible introduction of this technology onto future production aircraft, the various components of the system have been designed with serial production in mind, Airbus Helicopters said.
The Flightlab is a modified H-130 helicopter. Airbus has named other testbeds Flightlab before, including A340 MSN1, used to assess the feasibility of introducing laminar flow wing technology on a large airliner, and the A350 Airspace Explorer used to evaluate connected cabin technologies inflight.