Airbus' New Composite Helicopter Is A Billion Dollar Bet

The Airbus H160 is the world's first all-composite civil helicopter, a lightweight chopper that promises a 185 MPH cruising speed and a comfortable, whisper quiet ride when it takes flight later this year.

The H160 is the first aircraft manufactured under Airbus Helicopters after it was rebranded Eurocopter in 2014. The new medium-size helicopter slots between the H145 (formerly EC145) and the H175 (formerly EC175), designed to deliver performance, safety, and comfort at a competitive price.


The aircraft will use the company's Blue Edge blades, which feature a hockey stick-shaped leading edge at the outer tip designed to reduce the noise generated by blade-vortex interaction. For the uninitiated, that's the pulsating sound created when the tip of one rotor blade hits the vortex shed by the tip of the preceding blade. By reshaping the blade, the sound can be reduced by up to five dB, which is key with the recent spate of noise reduction regulations and restricted flight paths created solely for noise abatement.

The 5-6 ton aircraft will be capable of carrying 12 passenger with a range up to 120 nautical miles to its destination, deliver the payload and return. It will provide a smooth ride at 185 mph cruise speed and be capable of hovering out of ground effect at altitudes up to 5,000 feet.

The H160 is designed to directly compete with the Agustawestland AW139, with Airbus CEO Guillaume Faury has calling it "the AW139 killer." Airbus invested over $1 billion in the H160's development, with its composite body helping to drop the empty weight one ton below the AW139, improving fuel economy and reducing operating costs.


Airbus Helicopters recently announced that it dropped its original choice of turboshaft engines from Pratt & Whitney due to an increase in power requirements in order to have a competitive advantage over the AW139. The H160 will now be powered by two Turbomeca Arrano 1A (TM800) that create upwards of 1,300 shaft horsepower.


The cockpit is equipped with Helionix avionics suite, based on 6x8-in multifunctional displays. The Helionix will also be featured on the EC145 T2 and EC175 family of helicopters with a common cockpit touted as an advantage for pilots who fly multiple aircraft.

One of the biggest visual significant distinctions of the H160 is the fenestron that's tilted at 12 degrees. Many helicopters employ a tilted tail rotor, providing additional lift and opening up the center of gravity, allowing more flexible loading and boosting passenger comfort. With a fully-enclosed fenestron, the tail rotor acts like a ducted fan, which reduces noise even further, but also increases safety and eliminates unwanted aerodynamic side effects.


The H160 also boasts electrically operated landing gear, eliminating complicated and heavy hydraulics systems, while the airframe design incorporates a biplane stabilizer on the tail that adds additional lifting and creates more stability in hover, as well as a more level flight path.


If you weren't able to get to Florida for the Heli-Expo 2015, you can watch the unveiling here:

Photos: Airbus Helicopters Inc.


Chris is a pilot who loves airplanes and cars and his writing has been seen on Jalopnik. Contact him with questions or comments via twitter or email.

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