Airbus’s Rapid and Cost-Effective Rotorcraft Project
Despite the fact that the development of some components is somewhat behind schedule, Airbus hopes to maintain the last scheduled date for the first flight of its Rapid And Cost-Effective Rotorcraft (RACER) high-speed technology demonstrator, scheduled for the end of 2021.
The RACER (Rapid And Cost-Effective Rotorcraft), or what is the same as “fast and profitable rotary-wing aircraft”, represents Airbus Helicopters taking a further step in the evolution of high-speed hybrid demonstrators, following the experience acquired with the Eurocopter X³.
The RACER project is financed by the H2020 Framework Program (Horizon 2020) of the European Union through Clean Sky 2 with the aim of offering in these new aircraft the best solution between speed, profitability, sustainability, and mission performance.
RACER Program Chonography
The RACER was made public on June 20, 2017, at the Paris Air Show, with its first flight originally scheduled for 2020, a date that was later postponed to the end of 2021.
The aerodynamic configuration was validated in 2017 and in February 2018, the power plant was redefined, as the Safran Aneto-1X was 25% more compact than the RTM322 initially selected, for the same power (it’s thought that one of the two turbines that propel the helicopter can be turned off in flight or turned on quickly when needed, to save on fuel consumption).
Eight months later, in October 2018, the design of key subsystems was completed, passing the Preliminary Design Review (PDR) and the production of some elements began.
The first manufactured components are in charge of these four companies: GE’s Italian Avio Aero, which was delegated to manufacture the side gearbox cover, GE Aviation
Systems, in the United Kingdom responsible for the titanium base of the wing, the Romanian INCAS/Romaero in charge of the composite material side panel, and the Spanish company Aernnova, which supplied the structure of the tail.
It was in 2019 that the RACER passed the Critical Design Review (CDR), although, in April 2020, the main gearbox had not yet reached the CDR level, although Airbus reported that it had no impact on the overall development of the demonstrator as it would be ensured through external interfaces that these remaining components can be assembled later without delaying the construction of the prototype.
Another element that is delayed in its development is the lateral transmission line, which links the main gearbox with the lateral gearbox to drive the propeller at the end of each wing.
In mid-2020 the fuselage was scheduled to arrive at the Airbus Helicopters plant from Romania to begin the assembly of the prototype, which will take at least another 12 months to obtain the necessary flight authorization for the helicopter, which will take us to the fourth quarter of 2021 to see its maiden liftoff.
This will be followed by in-flight testing — about 200 hours — to define the flight envelope, assessing key performance targets, as well as speed, handling qualities, stability, and aerodynamics.
In a second phase, the objective will be to demonstrate the suitability of the aircraft to carry out potential missions. If the demonstrator meets expectations and the market response is positive, it could prompt the manufacturer to launch a full business development based on RACER’s technology.
The resulting new generation of helicopters would be up to 50% faster than the current one, with a 25% reduction in costs per mile traveled, a smaller noise footprint, and 15% less fuel consumption developing higher speed (at 180knots compared to what a conventional helicopter consumes at 130 knots).
Thanks to this, a hybrid helicopter could cover twice the surface area in a search and rescue mission than a current one.
The SMART-FTI Project
This past June 22, the SMART-FTI project was announced, in which three small companies participate, as they had never before been part of a Clean Sky project:
- Vectoflow GmbH, a young and innovative company that develops dynamic fluid metrology devices
- Evolution Measurements, a provider of physical and consultative solutions for measurement problems
- Any Shape — Additive Technologies for Industry, which specializes in additive manufacturing.
The combination of their skills will make the innovative flight test instrumentation tailored to the specific needs of the RACER.
SMART-FTI has received €1.2 million from the EU’s Horizon 2020 program for a period of three years. The objective of SMART-FTI (Flight Test Instrumentation, flight test instrumentation) is to design the special aerodynamic instrumentation for the flight tests necessary to cover the capabilities demanded by the RACER demonstrator.
The project will build on the specialized additive manufacturing skills of the three companies and their knowledge of sensor and instrumentation modules.
The central objectives of these instrumentation sets are the key factors of non-intrusion, easy and fast installation, and flexibility, as they will allow minimally intrusive measurements with wide coverage to characterize the aerodynamics of a novel helicopter concept and allow improvements in fuel consumption and performance.
The project concept focuses on a modular approach, designing instrumentation using additive manufacturing that will be lightweight, high strength, and temperature resistance, while also improving aerodynamic performance to contribute to Clean Sky’s environmental goals.
The different sensors, probes, and all other elements will be integrated into the modules using a plug & play approach. The advantage of this approach is that each module can be calibrated out of its docking location and installed non-intrusively.
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Rodney Rodríguez Robles is an aerospace engineer, cyclist, blogger, and cutting edge technology advocate, living a dream in the aerospace industry he only dreamed of as a kid. He talks about coding, the history of aeronautics, rocket science, and all the technology that is making your day by day easier.
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