Airbus Helicopters Unveils PioneerLab Sustainability Platform at Aviation Conference

Specially equipped twin-engine test helicopter seeks to save fuel and use more recyclables.

The PioneerLab is based on Airbus Helicopters’ twin-engine H145. [Courtesy: Airbus Helicopters]

Airbus Helicopters unveiled the PioneerLab, a twin-engine technology demonstrator, during the German National Aviation Conference in Hamburg.

The company said the purpose of the demonstrator, which is based on its H145 helicopter platform, is to test technologies that reduce helicopter emissions and make use of bio-based materials—both in its fuel as well as structural components.

"With PioneerLab, we continue our ambitious strategy to test and mature new technologies on board our helicopter demonstrators," said Tomasz Krysinski, head of research and innovation programs at Airbus Helicopters. "PioneerLab, which is based in Germany at our Donauwörth site, will be our platform to test technologies specifically dedicated to twin-engine helicopters."

One of the company’s goals with  the PioneerLab is to reduce fuel consumption by as much as 30 percent compared with a conventional H145. The expected reduction reflects the demonstrator’s hybrid-electric propulsion system and a number of aerodynamic improvements.

The company also plans to use the demonstrator to flight-test structural parts that are made from bio-based and recycled materials to reduce the aircraft’s environmental footprint. Airbus Helicopters said it intends to produce the new parts using processes that consume less material and energy while improving recyclability.

The test program will also include integration of the latest digital light control technologies aimed at increasing autonomy and safety during takeoff, landing, and other critical phases of flight.

The PioneerLab’s flight test program has begun at the manufacturer's largest German site in Donauwörth. A rotor strike alerting system was the first item aboard the demonstrator. The next testing phase will include an automated takeoff and landing system.

Jonathan Welsh is a private pilot who worked as a reporter, editor and columnist with the Wall Street Journal for 21 years, mostly covering the auto industry. His passion for aviation began in childhood with balsa-wood gliders his aunt would buy for him at the corner store. Follow Jonathan on Twitter @JonathanWelsh4

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