Hill Helicopters Pushes First HX50 Flight Back To End Of 2023

Hill Helicopters HX50
Credit: Hill Helicopters

LONDON—British helicopter start-up Hill Helicopters has pushed the first flight of its HX50 turbine-powered light helicopter back to the end of 2023. 

Founder and chief executive, Jason Hill told the company’s Aug. 12 Global Meetup and Discover Event held at its development center in Rugeley, England, that he now planned to integrate the 1,650 kg, five-seat rotorcraft with its in-house-developed GT50 turbine engine “between March and June next year,” with a first flight expected to follow six months later. Full-scale production of aircraft for the market would now begin in September 2024. 

The company had originally hoped to be flying a first prototype in summer 2022 and start delivering customer aircraft in 2023. Hill suggested that the company had been challenged by its plans to fully vertically-integrate the company by developing and producing much of the aircraft in-house.  

“With refined information, now we understand what’s involved in the extent of vertical integration we need ... we know the time, much more accurately that we’re going to need to get this to the level that I’m satisfied to put helicopters out there,” Hill told customers. 

“The challenge with [vertical integration] it, because there’s no free lunch, means we have a lot to do ... we have to invest heavily in people, in manufacturing processes, in infrastructure, and in capability, to be able to do all of the things that traditionally a wide network of suppliers would do,” he added. 

Among the company’s projects is work on cockpit transparencies and crash-worthy seats and also avionics development. 

Hill said the vertical integration process, had given the company “complete freedom to innovate,” and would also allow the company to control the cost of the aircraft and would not be “held to ransom by suppliers.” 

The company displayed prototypes of the HX50’s main gearbox and components for a refreshed design of the GT50 turbine, referred to by Hill as GT50 V2.0 which had seen engineers re-engineer the engine’s combustion system. 

Changes to the engine, Hill said, had removed 40kg from the weight of the turbine and had had what he called a “profound impact on the performance, the size, and the packaging of the engine.” 

Delays to the project do not seem to have impacted customer enthusiasm for the rotorcraft however, with Hill stating that the company now had 627 helicopter sales in 46 countries.  

Hill is planning to offer the helicopter in two versions. The first, the HX50, which will be available to buy under the experimental homebuilt category. It will not be available as a kit for homebuilding, instead customers will be required to attend a build course at the company’s UK Civil Aviation Authority-approved factory and participate in the entire build process of their aircraft. A fully certified model, identical to the HX50 and built in the same facility, called HC50, will be available to the market and commercial use later albeit at a higher cost. Of the orders collected so far, 516 are for the HX50s and 111 are for HC50s. 

To support that customer demand, work is underway on securing planning permissions for the company to establish a new 335,000 ft.² production facility. This would have an initial capacity to build around 500 helicopters annually but could be scaled to enable the production of up to 1,000 a year if demand required. 

Hill’s ambition is to build what he calls an aerial grand tourer, at a similar price to that of a super car. He claims the HX/HC50 family of helicopters will be “more capable, more desirable, more attainable, more connected,” than previous light helicopters. It  will benefit from a support mechanism, and a business model, that is “completely owner centric,” and favoring private owner-operators. List price for the HX50 is £495,000 ($600,470). By comparison, the current price of a Robinson R66 Turbine is just shy of $1 million. 


Tony Osborne

Based in London, Tony covers European defense programs. Prior to joining Aviation Week in November 2012, Tony was at Shephard Media Group where he was deputy editor for Rotorhub and Defence Helicopter magazines.