During a press briefing via its social networks, Airbus Helicopters revealed several points on the progress of the Racer program launched on 2017.
As a reminder, this program was launched and developed in the frame of the European Research Clean Sky 2 project, which involves 40 partners in 13 European countries. This high-speed demonstrator will be optimised for a cruise speed of more than 400 km/h (the average helicopter can reach a top speed of about 260 km/h) and aims at achieving the best trade-off between speed, cost-efficiency and mission performance. Fuel savings will be generated thanks to the innovative Safran eco-mode hybrid-electrical system, which allows one of the two Aneto-1X engines to be shut down while in cruise flight. The particular architecture of the Racer formula will also contribute to lowering its operational acoustic footprint.
The Racer demonstrator passed its critical design review in 2019 before the manufacturing of some long lead items was achieved in 2020. The recent completion of the demonstrator’s centre fuselage represents a decisive milestone for the programme as it marks the start of the Racer’s assembly.
Fuselage elements and canopy
In its announcement, AH reveals the state of progress on the central fuselage by unveiling the first images of the fuselage designed and manufactured by Romania’s RoRCraft consortium, formed by INCAS (the National Institute for Aerospace Research “Elia Cafaroli”) and the aerospace company Romaero. The RoRCraft consortium will also be contributing to the demonstrator flight clearance by designing and conducting ground tests and stress analysis of the required fuselage parts.
Also, the helicopter manufacturer, show first images of the side shells. These items made of carbon fibre reinforced plastic (CFRP), and connects the tail boom to the aircraft’s cockpit. Such large format CFRP shells are traditionally made manually, but the Racer’s shell components have been manufactured in a highly automated process thanks to a new method developed by a research team from the Fraunhofer Institute for Foundry, Composite and Processing Technology IGCV in Germany.
Developed by the German FastCan consortium, formed by KLK Motorsport GMBH and Modell und Formenbau Blasius Gerg GmbH, the Racer’s i carbon fibre canopy has also unveiled. The FastCan consortium has leveraged the automotive design expertise and manufacturing technologies to create a lightweight canopy, which is optimised for low aerodynamic draft and a good field of view. The Racer canopy will integrate lightweight, erosion-resistant windows and windshields capable of withstanding bird strikes, even at high speeds, and were developed by the WIMPER consortium, which comprises the KRD Sicherheitstechnik GmbH, the German Aerospace Center DLR, the Institute of Structures and Design, and the Stuttgart University’s Institute of Aircraft Design.
Canopy, rear fuselage and wings
In addition to the canopy, the advancement of the wings is also one of the crucial points of the program. Airbus show first images of wings made by the British Astral consortium, composed of Aernova Hamble Aerostructures and the Institute for Advanced Manufacturing at the University of Nottingham. These companies are responsible for the design and manufacturing of the innovative Racer wings, one of the most striking elements of the demonstrator. Optimised for aerodynamic efficiency, the patented “double wing” or “box wing” provides lift in cruise mode while enhancing safety around the demonstrator during ground operations. With the aim to contribute to the lower emissions objective of the Clean Sky 2 programme, Airbus says that ” each new wing on the Racer has been designed with high-performance ecological materials that reduce the weight of the aircraft. The new wings actively enhance the helicopter’s performance by providing additional vertical lift and the ability to fly further and faster than traditional helicopters.“
Based on an Airbus Helicopters patent, the Racer’s rear fuselage developed by the Airbus Helicopters teams in Spain, which was supported by the Outcome consortium led by Aernnova. Its dimensions, weight target and its asymmetric cross-section profile all had to be designed to optimise the Racer’s hover performance without penalizing the forward and cruise flights phases. Likewise, its atypical H-shaped empennage and double tilted vertical/horizontal stabiliser, devised to enhance stability and energy consumption, have also required the implementation of innovative technologies. The Racer will be the first Airbus aircraft to fly with a primary structure, produced using additive manufacturing.
This first assembly phase is taking place at Airbus Helicopters’ site in Donauwörth, Germany and will involve the installation of several major components such as the canopy, the box-wings, the fuel system, the cowlings, and more. Later this year, the Racer will be transferred to Airbus Helicopters’ site in Marignane, France for the final assembly and subsequent launch of the flight campaign in 2022.