Electrification and Sustainability

Airbus Moves Toward Hybrid Electric Helicopter with New Engine Backup System

By Kelsey Reichmann | September 28, 2021
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Airbus will begin testing an electrical backup system on its Flightlab helicopter. (Airbus)

The Airbus Flightlab helicopter has started flight tests with a backup engine system that will function in the short term as an emergency electrical power system in case of turbine failure but in the long term as a way towards hybrid-electric propulsion system development. 

Airbus announced this development at its Pioneering Sustainable Aerospace Summit on Sept. 21. The company will be conducting the project through a partnership with the French Civil Aviation Authority DGAC.  

“The engine back-up system is a good example of the incremental approach in our innovation strategy,” Tomasz Krysinski, Head of Research and Innovation at Airbus Helicopters, said. 

The Flightlab helicopter’s main gearbox will have a 100 kW electric motor connected to it to provide electrical power for 30 seconds in the event of engine failure, according to Airbus. The aim is to give pilots extra time to react to a possible failure. 

The flight tests will consist of engine failure simulations during takeoff, landing, and corresponding limitations, according to Airbus. 

As the flight tests continue, Airbus will aim to increase the performance of the electric system to provide the helicopter with more power allowing for increased payloads. 

“The current EBS flights are a very important first step towards a future hybrid propulsion system and we already foresee a second phase of the project with more energy and power onboard,” Krysinski said. “We are looking at developing a fully parallel hybrid propulsion system mixing thermal and electrical energy together with the aim of optimizing fuel consumption and enabling hybrid single-engine flights over urban areas”. 

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