Airbus Helicopters has started in-flight tests onboard its Flightlab, a platform-agnostic flying laboratory exclusively dedicated to maturing new technologies. Airbus Helicopters Flightlab provides an agile and efficient testbed to rapidly test technologies that could later be equipped on Airbus’ current range of helicopters, and even more disruptive ones for future fixed-wing aircraft or platforms (e)VTOL.
The company intends to continue testing hybrid and electric propulsion technologies with its Flightlab demonstrator, as well as explore autonomy and other technologies aimed at reducing the noise impact of helicopters or improving flight maintenance and safety.
Flight tests of Flightlab started in April 2020 when the demonstrator was used to measure helicopter sound levels in urban areas and to particularly study how buildings may affect people’s perception. In particular, the laboratory plays an important role in masking or amplifying sound levels, and these studies will be instrumental when the time comes for sound modeling and regulation setting, especially for Urban Air Mobility (UAM) initiatives. Flight lab was also used to test the Rotor Strike Alerting System (RSAS), which facilitates piloting in urban areas and mountainous areas by signaling the approach of propellers to obstacles.
In the course of this year, Flightlab will be used to test high-resolution cameras to make navigation at low altitudes safer. The reliability of the Health and Usage Monitoring System (HUMS) will also be investigated as well as the operation of an Engine Back-up System that should enable an emergency landing via an electric motor in the event of a turbine failure.
The testing of the newly designed Flightlab will continue in 2022 in order to evaluate a new ergonomic design of intuitive pilot flight controls intended to further reduce pilot workload. These could later be retrofitted to existing helicopters or Urban Air Mobility (UAM) applications.
The Flightlab is an Airbus-wide initiative, reflecting the company’s approach to innovation focused on delivering value to customers. Airbus already has several well-known Flightlabs, such as the A340 MSN1, used to evaluate the feasibility of introducing laminar flow wing technology on a large airliner, and the A350 Airspace Explorer used to evaluate related cabin technologies in flight.