Airbus Helicopters has started in-flight tests onboard the European aerospace group's rotary-wing Flightlab facility. The platform-agnostic flying laboratory is being used to mature new advanced air mobility technologies for the company’s current helicopters and possible future fixed-wing and eVTOL aircraft designs.
Specifically, Flightlab will be used to test hybrid and electric propulsion, autonomy, noise reduction, and improved maintenance and safety technologies. Flight tests on noise reduction began in April 2020 focused on buildings’ impact on people’s sound perception with a view toward applying the data to sound modeling and regulation of urban air mobility (UAM) aircraft. Later flights in December concentrated on evaluating the rotor strike alerting system.
Other tests to be conducted in 2021 will include a camera image-detection solution to enable low altitude navigation, a dedicated health and usage monitoring system (HUMS) for light helicopters, and an engine back-up system that provides emergency electric power in the event of turbine failure. Testing in 2022 will evaluate a new ergonomic design of intuitive pilot flight controls which could be applied to traditional helicopters and UAM vehicles.
“Investing in the future remains essential, even in times of crisis, especially when those innovations bring added value to our customers by targeting increased safety, reduced pilot workload, and reduced sound levels,” said Bruno Even, Airbus Helicopters CEO. “Having a dedicated platform to test these new technologies brings the future of flight a step closer and is a clear reflection of our priorities at Airbus Helicopters.”
Flightlab is an Airbus-wide initiative. Past test aircraft have included A340 and A350 airliners used to evaluate laminar flow wing and connected cabin technologies.
Airbus Helicopters has been evaluating its CityAirbus eVTOL technology demonstrator, following earlier tests by the group's A-cubed division on the Vahana model. The company has yet to indicate whether or not it intends to bring a new eVTOL aircraft to market.