First Hybrid Helicopter Achieves Maiden Flight
Eurocopter announced today that it has flown a “hybrid” AS350 Ecureuil/AStar, a production helicopter that combines a turboshaft internal combustion engine with an electric motor. To explore the hybrid concept, the company is using the “supplementary” electric motor to replace the main engine during what would otherwise be called an autorotation. While the electric motor and battery do not provide as much power as the conventional turboshaft, they “increase maneuverability,” thus allowing the pilot to control the helicopter “very easily” during the descent in the event of an engine failure. According to Eurocopter, the AS350 hybrid demonstrator has a “highly compact” electric motor and lithium ion polymer battery installed in the center area of the helicopter. Electronic controls enable precise deployment of power delivered by the electric motor during the period of assisted autorotation. Eurocopter plans to bring this concept to maturity and evaluate its implementation on production helicopters, though the French aircraft manufacturer hasn’t yet specified any target dates for that.