Sikorsky, GE Team Up On Hybrid-Electric VTOL Demonstrator


Sikorsky President Paul Lemmo (left) and Amy Gowder, President and CEO of Defense & Systems at GE Aerospace, announce the hybrid-electric demonstrator at Heli-Expo 2023.

Credit: Sikorsky/Lockheed Martin

ATLANTA—Sikorsky and GE Aerospace have revealed plans to develop a fully autonomous hybrid-electric vertical-take-off-and-landing (VTOL) demonstrator aimed at proving technology for a family of large multi-role, civil and military advanced air mobility vehicles.

Targeting ranges in excess of 500 nm, the 7,000-8,000-lb. uncrewed flying testbed will be powered by a CT7 turboshaft-driven hybrid-electric propulsion system. For now, Sikorsky is keeping details of the configuration a secret. 

Designed to evaluate novel propulsion systems and control architectures for sustained hover, the vehicle will “not be a conventional rotorcraft,” says Igor Cherepinsky, director of the Sikorsky Innovations rapid prototyping group that will lead the program.

Flight tests of the hybrid-electric demonstrator—or HEX—will start in 2026 and evaluate performance over a wide range of capabilities covering hover, high-speed cruise and endurance. The hybrid propulsion system will “decouple the rotor speed from the engine speed and gets rid of the mechanical complexity of the aircraft,” Cherepinsky says.

The propulsion system will borrow heavily from technology now under development by GE under the NASA electrified powertrain flight demonstrator (EPFD) project and the U.S. Army’s Applied Research Collaborative Systematic Turboshaft Electrification Project (ARC-STEP). Like EPFD, the CT7 will drive a 1-megawatt generator as well as associated power electronics, though it will be sized for a smaller power output than the NASA program. 

“At the heart of this will also be our Matrix autonomy software and system which we have been testing for the last decade and recently proved in Project Convergence,” says Paul Lemmo, Sikorsky’s president, referring to the autonomous flight control system demonstrated on a UH-60 Black Hawk during the U.S. Army’s exercise of that name.

Although the HEX will be at least 2,000 lb. heavier than Sikorsky’s original X2 compound demonstrator, it will still be smaller than production helicopters such as the S-76/UH-60. “That’s the typical Sikorsky sweet spot—the larger aircraft like the S-76—so that’s really the market we’re aiming at, but obviously we don’t want to start there. We want a vehicle that we can develop rapidly and take risks with. We don’t want this demonstrator to take 10 years,” Cherepinsky says.

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Guy Norris

Guy is a Senior Editor for Aviation Week, covering technology and propulsion. He is based in Colorado Springs.