Team, prepare for take-off

The first flight of RACER, the Airbus Helicopters' high-speed demonstrator born within the European programme Clean Sky2, is about to happen.

Mar 2024

The large audience present at the last Clean Aviation Annual Forum, on last March 6th, will certainly have experienced, among the many engaging speeches and exciting presentations which took place on stage, a certain degree of emotion and enthusiasm during the sessions that illustrated the brilliant path of the RACER project since its inception, in 2016, onwards.

Today, the Airbus Helicopters team  that created this super-fast and high-efficiency compound helicopter is proudly preparing for the first flight and is doing so with the spirit of collaboration and proactive involvement that has allowed the world leader in the sector and its partners, first and foremost Avio Aero for the transmission system, to develop and bring to flight highly innovative and, above all, safe technologies, from aerodynamics to propulsion.

"From next week I will be at the hangar where the RACER prototype that will make the first flight is located, I spoke with the experimental pilots just a few days ago," Tomasz Krysiński, Vice President Innovation and Research at Airbus Helicopters, said from the forum stage, with his usual contagious energy. "This project has seen something like more than 6,800 drawings and over 5,700 parts produced, has involved more than 40 partners in 13 European countries through which we have grown so many talents from engineering and industry. RACER represents a turning point for the future of mobility, for civil, para-public or defense needs."

Tomasz Krysiński, Vice President Innovation and Research at Airbus Helicopters, speaking at CAAF 2024.

In fact, the RACER presents impressive data, not only from the point of view of efficiency – it is capable of a 20% reduction in fuel consumption (and therefore CO2) – but also from the point of view of noise reduction. Thanks to the design and shape of its propellers, noise can also be reduced by 20%, while guaranteeing a speed more than 50% higher than the average of conventional helicopters, which in any case inspired in a synergistic and simple way.

A futuristic helicopter that represents a unicum and something that goes beyond the traditional ecosystem of helicopters on the market today. As Julien Guitton, RACER and European Research Program Manager at Airbus Helicopters, said from the forum stage and in conversation with about magazine: "for pilots it will be an experiential leap from flying a traditional helicopter, just one button to switch to RACER with no transition between hover and cruise phases".

According to Guitton, this demonstrator is the result of a vision. "We shared the status of the demonstrator according to that vision, what works and what we can improve, and we also share the success that comes with it. I think that's what energizes the project and reinforces the sense of community that distinguishes our team of partners: it's what allows us to overcome the challenges that such an innovation presents. No one is alone in facing them, we do it together. And this is what I appreciate about the RACER community, as well as Clean Aviation, which has the same spirit through the network of industry, research and academia."

Marinella Marconi and Julien Guitton with the RACER mockup and lateral gearbox displayed at CAAF 2024 in Brussels.

Representing Avio Aero, Marinella Marconi – Technical Leader of RACER – was also on stage at the Clean Aviation Annual Forum together with Guitton to bring the testimony of the Avio Aero team that contributed to the program. "We have made huge efforts, all to deliver highly safe and flight-ready products. And we are really proud, especially of the many top-notch technologies and materials that we have designed and built side by side with Airbus Helicopters," said Marconi.

A feeling of pride and satisfaction that Guitton retraces thinking of "our creature that is finally about to take flight", says the French manager. "We experience a mix of feelings within our community. Now we have to be focused on preparing and finishing everything properly, with safety first in mind and the highest quality. I expect the partners to share the same feelings, because we are a community that neither the pandemic nor the technical or financial complexity of the project has been able to stop. And Avio Aero is as motivated as we are for the future of this program."

Julien Guitton speaking from the CAAF 2024 stage, depicted the latest assembly phases of the RACER.

"We are a community that neither the pandemic nor the technical or financial complexity of the project has been able to stop, and Avio Aero is as motivated as we are for the future of this program"

A rather interesting future, which opens up scenarios of sustainable and wide possibilities. "The RACER is a demonstrator (we stay humble about it), and it's just getting started: now we're going to open this exciting 'flight domain' phase to test all its capabilities, up to top speed. We will do this thanks to more than 700 sensors installed around the entire test aircraft, the flight envelope will take several months to try all the features. In this time, we will demonstrate the capabilities, beyond the speed, the load, the range, the maneuverability so that they can be concretely exploited and form the product offer for civil or para-public applications," said Guitton.

The Clean Sky2 program has come to its end, but the RACER is taking its "first steps" only now and both the Airbus Helicopters team and its partners, Avio Aero in the first place, are aware that they will reach new exciting horizons.

Cover image is courtesy of Airbus Helicopters, © 2024.