Eurocopter X3 sets 255-knot level speed record

© Eurocopter. Photo: A. Pecchi

Eurocopter’s X3 hybrid concept has set a new pair of helicopter speed records, recording 255 knots (472 km/h) during level flight and 263 knots (487 km/h) during a descent.

The former was achieved on June 7 at an altitude of around 10,000 feet during a 40-minute test flight over southern France near Istres. The descent record was set several days previously.

The X3 is designed to demonstrate Eurocopter’s abilities in the advanced, cost-effective vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) transportation field. It combines the full-flight capabilities of a helicopter with the speed of a turboprop-powered aircraft.

“It’s no exaggeration to say that the X3 is clearly in its element at high speeds.” said Eurocopter test pilot Hervé Jammayrac. “While flying at both 255 knots and 263 knots, the X3 performed exactly as it has throughout its flight envelope, exhibiting outstanding stability and providing a low vibration level without any anti-vibration system.”

Eurocopter says the concept craft, which features two RTM 322 turboshaft engines powering a five-blade main rotor system with two propellers installed on short-span fixed wings, is well suited for “missions requiring long transit flights at high speeds, while retaining full vertical lift and hover capabilities”.

© Eurocopter. Photo: A. Pecchi

The Franco-German-Spanish aerospace company sees the X3 as having a wide range of applications, including long-distance search and rescue (SAR) operations, coast guard missions, border patrol flights, passenger transport, off-shore airlifts, inter-city shuttle services and a variety of military missions.

In a statement, Eurocopter said the X3 was developed “in a rapid paced Eurocopter program that utilised one of the company’s Dauphin helicopters as the airframe.

“For the latest high-speed milestone, the demonstrator was equipped with a drag-reducing rotor head fairing, which directly benefitted from company testing of a high-speed Dauphin DGV testbed during the 1990s, along with the addition of landing gear fairings.

“The Dauphin DGV enabled Eurocopter’s predecessor company Aerospatiale to set another helicopter speed milestone – reaching a record velocity of 200 knots in 1991.”

Eurocopter flight test engineer Dominique Fournier – who was aboard the X3 during the record-setting flights, said the ventures were about more than symbolic milestones.

“These flights allow us to further explore the behaviour of main rotors at high speeds,” he said, “and enable us to make effectiveness assessments of the fairing we’ve added to the main rotor hub – which will be beneficial for drag optimisation across Eurocopter’s overall product range.”

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