Airbus Helicopters has started trials of a backup electric propulsion system on the H130, which serves as the company’s flight laboratory. The project, which is supported by the French Civil Aviation Authority (DGAC), aims to improve the flight safety of single-engine helicopters in the event of a power failure.
The installation of an auxiliary electrical system, known as EBS (engine back-up system), could also be a precursor to hybrid propulsion for light helicopters. The test helicopter in the Flightlab programme is fitted with a 100 kW electric motor connected directly to the main rotor, which will keep the rotor running for an additional 30 seconds in the event of a conventional engine failure. This gives the pilot valuable time to make the right decisions, which can contribute to a safer autorotation landing.
The first tests will simulate the failure of the main engine during different flight profiles, such as take-off and landing. The results will be tested not only for safety reasons, but also to prove that the installation of the electric system also improves performance due to the extra power immediately available. On the one hand, this compensates for the extra weight of the EBS system, and on the other hand, it can also allow a helicopter to carry more payload.
Tomas Krysinski, the company’s head of development, said that a second stage is already being planned, which will include a more powerful engine and battery. The ultimate goal is to develop a hybrid propulsion system, where a conventional fuel-powered engine and an electric motor operate in parallel.
By introducing hybrid propulsion, in addition to improving fuel consumption, the manufacturer wants to ensure that helicopters equipped with EBS are not subject to the restrictions on single-engine rotorcraft flying over densely populated areas.