Eurocopter announced this week that it has begun test flights of the X3, a technology demonstrator for its project to develop a high-speed, long-range hybrid helicopter that will combine vertical takeoff and landing capabilities with cruise speeds of more than 220 knots. The X3 is equipped with two turboshaft engines that power the five-blade main rotor system. The two engines also power two propellers that are installed on short-span fixed wings. This hybrid system produces the speed of a turboprop aircraft plus the full hover flight capabilities of a helicopter, according to the company. The aircraft is expected to be used for search and rescue, border patrol, troop transport, and medical evacuation, Eurocopter said. The U.S.-based Sikorsky Aircraft Corp. recently announced that its X2 technology demonstrator had reached a speed of 250 knots in level flight, setting an unofficial speed record for helicopters.
Eurocopter said it will continue initial testing of the X3 through December at speeds up to about 180 knots. The aircraft will then undergo further modifications and flights will resume in March 2011 with the goal of reaching sustained cruise speeds of 220 knots and up. The company has been working on the project for about three years.