Airbus To Develop X3 Successor

LONDON — Airbus Helicopters will build a large-scale compound helicopter to further develop the technologies used its in X3 high-speed demonstrator.

Work on the LifeRCraft (Low Impact Fast & Efficient RotorCraft) will begin this year, and Airbus aims to start flight demonstrations around 2019.

The aircraft is being developed in the framework of the European Union’s Clean Sky 2 Joint Technology Initiative and aims to build on the initial high-speed test work completed by the X3, which was retired to the Musee de l’Air in Paris earlier this year.

Like the X3, the LifeRCraft will use fixed wings for more efficient lift, open propellers for high-efficiency propulsion and a main rotor that provides vertical takeoff and landing capabilities.

The company previously said the X3 had more than proved a business case for a high-speed rotorcraft using the X3 – known as X-cubed technology – and it could find its way on to a product during the 2020s.

"This is not an investment in a product, but a second phase of research," said Airbus CEO Guillaume Faury, speaking at the Farnborough air show. "We believe we are coming closer and with this phase and we will be closer, to reaching a point where we could make a decision for a product.

"But we need as well to work to exchange and communicate with our customers, because this kind of helicopter would change the way they are doing business."

Airbus plans on producing preliminary studies, architecture and specification work this year. Development and testing of components and subsystems for the aircraft will take place between 2016 and 2018, with flights in early 2019.

"We have observed that the introduction into market of new formulas is difficult to make and succeed, so in this second phase we want to focus on operations, customer benefits and the value it is creating," Faury added.

Airbus, previously Eurocopter, unveiled the X3 back in 2010. The aircraft’s development was prompted by the then-CEO Lutz Bertling, who wanted to produce comparable performance with Sikorsky’s X2 technology and the AgustaWestland AW609 commercial tiltrotor, but at a third of the purchase or direct operating costs. By the time the aircraft halted operations in mid-2013, it had completed around 200 flights and flown around 150 flight hours. A tour of the U.S. saw operators from both the commercial and military world fly the aircraft. In the weeks before the 2013 Paris air show, Eurocopter revealed that a series of test flights had yielded speeds of 255 kt in level flight breaking the X3’s previous top speed of 232 kt set in May 2011, but also breaking Sikorsky’s X2 record speed, by reaching 263 kt in a dive.

Part of the success was thanks to the installation of a new aerodynamic fairing around the rotor head to reduce its parasitic drag.