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Bluecopter: quieter and more fuel-efficient – thanks to aviation research

Airbus Helicopters shows what helicopter manufacturing “Made in Germany” is capable of. With the Bluecopter technology demonstrator, the company has developed the world’s quietest and most fuel-efficient helicopter. The technologies used to achieve this will mark the helicopter generations of the future. Without European and German research funds, this success would not have been possible, which just goes to show: intelligent support for innovation can be a key driver for future technologies.

Sensationally quiet

This is a helicopter which eclipses all of its predecessors in terms of noise reduction. Compared to similar models, the noise emissions have been reduced by around 10 decibels – meaning the perceived noise level has been halved. The Bluecopter thus ranks far below the ICAO noise guidelines. The key feature is the rotor, because this is what generates most noise. To reduce this, the rotor was completely re-designed: its diameter was increased, its speed of rotation was optimised, the blade edges and blade tips were given a new shape, and the number of rotor blades was increased from four to five. Optimisations of the tail rotor complete the noise reduction concept.

A pioneer in environmental protection

Less noise is not the Bluecopter’s only achievement. It also sets standards in terms of fuel consumption and emissions. Fuel consumption and CO2 emissions can be more than 40% lower than those of similar models. How is that possible? On the one hand, the aerodynamic design of the Bluecopter significantly reduces aerodynamic drag, whether on the airframe, the rotor, or the engines. Furthermore, during normal cruise flight, the Bluecopter can shut down one of the two engines without losing power – this “single engine operation” is responsible for the majority of the reduction in emissions.

A successful project thanks to LuFo and Clean Sky

Using the demonstrator, Airbus Helicopters has developed and tested pioneering future technologies which will be used in other future commercial helicopter models. The company registered dozens of patents during the course of the project. This fundamental research would not have been possible without funding. In total, the development work cost tens of millions of Euros. Close to half of this amount came from the European Clean Sky aviation research programme and the German national aviation research programme (LuFo). Airbus Helicopters financed the remaining amount from its own resources. The project goes to show: comparatively small investments from public bodies can help to get future-shaping developments off the ground.

Status: Nov 2017

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