Airbus is laying plans to develop hydrogen-powered helicopters. During a December 9 presentation to the Wichita Aero Club on the European aircraft maker’s zero-emissions commercial airliner program, Airbus Americas v-p of research and technology Amanda Simpson said its ZeroE project could be adapted to its rotorcraft. The group's Airbus Helicopters division now claims more than a 50 percent share of the civilian rotorcraft market.
“There are certainly thoughts about that,” Simpson said. “Our focus right now is on the airliner. I cannot go into some of the specifics that are planned for the helicopter side of the company because we haven’t made those public yet, but there’s some interesting ideas out there and some are actually in demonstration today. So maybe some exciting news soon...it’s not my place to burst the bubble on those.”
In September, Airbus Helicopters head of research and innovation Tomasz Krysinski acknowledged the power requirements of a hydrogen-powered helicopter could be a challenge but said that by 2029 the technology could be mature enough to fly on a helicopter demonstrator. “Our engineers have come a long way in making traditional technologies greener, working on a wide range of research projects that in some cases are already reducing emissions,” he said.
In a 45-minute-long presentation, Simpson reviewed Airbus’s proposed fixed-wing platforms for ZeroE—a conventional, narrowbody turbofan jet with 2,000-nm range and seating for up to 200 passengers; a 100-seat twin turboprop with 1,000-nm range; and a blended wing turbofan with a similar range and capacity as the conventional design. She also identified challenges of hydrogen power in aviation, including cost, availability, infrastructure, and regulatory acceptance of the technology.
Airbus plans to have a fixed-wing design in place and to begin the certification process by 2025. Entry into service would likely follow sometime between 2030 and 2035.
Separately, Airbus Helicopters is completing flight trials on an all-electric eVTOL aircraft technology demonstrator called CityAirbus. It has previously evaluated a smaller, electric eVTOL concept called Vahana.
The France-based company also is expected to test a number of other new concepts—including a hybrid-electric power system—on its high-speed Racer demonstrator, which is set to begin flight trials in 2021.