When Airbus introduced its latest concept aircraft at the 2017 Paris Air Show – a high-speed winged helicopter called the Racer – it showed that the future of aviation may look very different to what we’re used to. The helicopter is part of the European Union's (EU) successful Clean Sky initiative for new emission-cutting designs, technologies and ideas for the aerospace industry.
The Airbus Racer is one of the most eye-catching demonstrators to come out of the project so far, dubbed by the company itself as “our bold vision for the future of high-speed rotorcraft.” But Clean Sky has also produced a number of other innovative solutions that will make aircrafts of the future more environmentally-friendly and European companies more competitive.
In the process, the program is showing how the public and private sectors can work together to tackle major industrial issues while driving technology forward. Clean Sky is jointly funded by the European Commission and the nearly 600 partners taking part.
“The thriving research network that we have created is essential not only for guaranteeing environmental sustainability, but also for promoting European competitiveness and driving growth and jobs in the European economy,” says Eric Dautriat, Executive Director of the Clean Sky Joint Undertaking.
Clean Sky was formed in 2008 as part of the EU Horizon 2020, the union’s biggest ever research and innovation program. Its main aim is to assist companies in developing new technologies and demonstrators that will help meet the aerospace industry’s ambitious ACARE 2020 goals. That includes reducing fuel consumption, CO2 emissions and noise levels by 50 percent in 2020 compared to the levels recorded in 2000 – a goal that will have a major impact on the industry’s global environmental footprint.
The project’s initial phase – Clean Sky 1 – was hailed as an overall success when it ended in 2016 and even bigger things are expected of Clean Sky 2, which was given an increased budget of $4.9 billion and runs until 2020.
Airbus and Rolls Royce are among 12 leading partners who supply 50 percent of the private funds for the project, but all the participants benefit from more than just the funding.
Airbus Helicopters CEO Guillaume Faury said the Racer project was achieved by “pulling together the skills and know-how of dozens of European partners through the Clean Sky 2 initiative,” showing that fruitful new partnerships have been created as a result of the project.
Like the Airbus Racer, though, many of the other demonstrators and technologies that have been presented are still years away from actually being commercially ready. But they give an exciting hint of where the industry is heading.
Other key demonstrators to come out of the project include the Rolls Royce Advance3 engine, which the company hopes will help reduce fuel burn by at least 20 percent, while several partners are collaborating on an all-electric regional turboprop aircraft.
What is it?
A demonstrator of a high-speed winged helicopter being developed as part of the Clean Sky initiative. Its name stands for Rapid And Cost-Effective Rotorcraft.
How fast is it?
The Racer will have a cruise speed of more than 250 mph.
How is it environmentally friendly?
The Racer features a “box-wing” design that is optimized for aerodynamic efficiency, while its engines will feature an “eco mode” to generate fuel savings. It will also feature a lightweight frame. Airbus says it will consume 15% less fuel at 180 knots compared to a normal helicopter at 130 knots.
When will it be finished?
Final assembly of the demonstrator is expected to start in 2019, with a first flight the next year.