What is the fastest helicopter?
The fastest helicopter in the world is the hybrid and experimental Eurocopter X3 (pronounced “X-cube” in French). It reached a speed of 472 km/h on 7 June 2013.
Eurocopter X3, the world’s fastest helicopter
A little history
The Eurocopter X3 is a girodyne, a hybrid between a helicopter and a plane. Concretely, when hovering, the aircraft is piloted like a helicopter, whereas in flight it can be converted into an airplane by flying horizontally.
It was built by Eurocopter, which became Airbus Helicopters in 2014 in order to compete with the Bell-Boeing CV-22 Osprey. In the early 2000s, the two aviation giants were looking for the best possible way to combine the range and speed of an airplane with the ease of use of a helicopter. However, this required a substantial budget.
Eurocopter therefore launched the X3 programme with the sole aim of conducting aeronautical demonstrations, as opposed to producing a new aircraft in series.
How was it created?
The Eurocopter X3 is a combination of two aircrafts because :
- It has a main rotor driven by an engine to ensure vertical movements, like a helicopter.
- Its traction (horizontal movement) is maintained by one or more engines, similar to that of an airplane.
The AS-365N3 Dolphin 2 is used as a working base, hence its great external resemblance to the Eurocopter. The latter also has the five-bladed rotor of the EC155 and the complete transmission system of the EC175. The turboshaft engines are Rolls-Royce Turbomeca RTM322s. A total of 35% of the parts are designed specifically for the Eurocopter X3.
One of the peculiarities of the Eurocopter is that it has no rear rotor, replaced by two turboprop engines fixed on short wings, allowing high accelerations. In addition, the propellers are positioned so that these accelerations are horizontal. Braking is also much more effective than on conventional helicopters. It is the main transmission box that drives both the main rotor and the two turboprop engines.
The first flights of the Eurocopter X3 took place in September 2010 in the south of France (Istres-Le Tubé air base 125).
The Eurocopter X3 can accommodate two people and weighs 5,200 kilograms. The uses envisaged are rescue and search missions, but it will never be put into service or used for air transport.
How fast is a helicopter?
Average speed of a helicopter
The average cruising speed of a helicopter is 300 km/h; in comparison, the one of an airplane is 850 km/h. This is due to the operating principle of a helicopter and its rotor.
Helicopter speed record : the Eurocopter X3
The cruising speed of the Eurocopter X3 is 407 km/h but it also breaks several speed records. In 2011, it flew for several minutes at 430 km/h, using less than 80% of its power. The same year, it was presented at the Paris Air Show as a star. In 2012, the Eurocopter conducted two-month trials in the United States after receiving the Howard Hughes Award from the American Helicopter Society.
It was on June 7, 2013 that it became a legend; after reaching a speed of 483 km/h (263 knots) in the descent phase, its pilot managed to hold 472 km/h (255 knots) in horizontal flight, at an altitude of 3050 metres. The X3 therefore holds the unapproved speed record for a helicopter.
One of its competitors is the experimental X2 helicopter of the American Sikorsky, which is also a hybrid model but which is mainly aimed at combat missions. Unlike the X2, the Eurocopter X3 does not require an anti-vibration and stability reinforcement.
Finally, after three and a half years and 199 test flights (155 flight hours), the Eurocopter X3 saw its career come to an end. The only model built was on display in the hall of the the Bourget National Air and Space Museum, alongside the Concorde and Mirage IV. In 2017, it was tansferred to the Saint-Victoret Aviation Museum.
Helicopters: their maximal speed
By reaching a speed of 472 km/h, the Eurocopter overtook the Sikorsky X2, which had reached 463 km/h in 2010, as well as the Westland Lynx, which had held the official world record at 400 km/h since 1986. The world records that followed were not approved by the International Aeronautical Federation (FAI).
Today, many prototypes are underway, both light and heavy helicopters. Among them:
- In 2018, the Bell V-280 Valor reached a speed of 463 km/h, the final objective being 520 km/h cruising.
- Raider X, the successor of the Sikorsky X2 unveiled in 2019, is intended to be used by the US Army by combining the latest technological advances. Also based on the S-97, it can reach 463 km/h.
- The successor to the X3 is the Airbus RACER, whose first flights are scheduled for 2020. It would reduce costs by 25% while exceeding 400 km/h.
For the time being, these aircrafts are still being used for demonstrations or are intended to become combat helicopters. Eventually, more advanced and high-performance models could, who knows, be used for civil aviation or business travel.
Video featuring the Eurocopter X3 :
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