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Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Eurocopter Restarts Diesel Engine Project

By Thierry Dubois

Led by Eurocopter, the project for a diesel engine designed for light helicopters the size of an EC120 has started again, now aiming for the first engine to test in 2014. The name of the partners, Austro Engine and TEOS Power Engineering, have been unveiled at the Paris Air Show, as part of the Clean Sky joint technology initiative—a major European research program. The main challenge is the power-to-weight ratio. Today’s turboshafts are praised for their compactness. In other words, their power-to-weight ratio is very favorable. However, they work on the same physics as turbofans. Therefore, their fuel consumption is high. For relatively small power requirements, a diesel engine is much better from that standpoint.

Eurocopter hopes to reduce this fuel burn by 40 percent. The first demonstrator, built according to the manufacturer’s specifications, should run on the ground towards the end of the 39-month project. The technology used is expected to yield a power-to-weight ratio between those found on trucks and those found in diesel-equipped racecars. The program’s budget is EUR19.4 million (about $28 million). This amount includes ground testing. However, Eric Dautriat, the Clean Sky joint undertaking’s executive director, is counting on Eurocopter to continue to flight demonstration.

Eurocopter CEO Lutz Bertling has had this goal in mind for a few years. But finding the right partner proved tricky. In particular, for the first call for proposals, Eurocopter had underestimated the budget to allot for such an effort. The second attempt, with an increased budget, seems to be the right one. Austro Engine is best known as a diesel engine provider for Diamond light fixed-wing aircraft.
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