During the German National Aviation Conference in Hamburg this week, Airbus Helicopters unveiled the PioneerLab, its new twin-engine technology demonstrator based on the H145 platform.
PioneerLab is the latest addition to the Airbus Helicopters’ fleet of FlightLab flying laboratories that provide agile and efficient test beds to quickly test technologies. The latest one is a variant of the classic H145 utility helicopter that was introduced in 1999.
This latest iteration of Flightlab is focused on testing technologies that reduce helicopter emissions, increase autonomy, and integrate bio-based and recycled materials. The goal is to make future rotorcraft greener and more efficient and introduce greater autonomy.
The PioneerLab will incorporate a hybrid electric propulsion system and improved aerodynamics that, according to Airbus, will reduce fuel consumption by up to 30% compared to a conventional H145.
Additionally, it will flight-test structural components made from bio-based and recycled materials, with the goal of reducing the helicopter’s environmental footprint over its service life. Airbus Helicopters plans to manufacture these parts using processes that minimize material and energy consumption while improving recyclability.
The PioneerLab will also explore the use of the latest digital technologies in the aircraft’s flight control system and associated sensors to increase safety and autonomy during critical flight phases, such as take-off and landing.
The PioneerLab’s flight campaign has already begun at the manufacturer’s largest German site in Donauwörth, with a rotor strike alerting system being the first techno-brick tested on board the demonstrator. The next phase will focus on testing an automated take-off and landing system.
“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 Programmes at Airbus Helicopters, in an official statement. “PioneerLab, which is based in Germany at our Donauwörth site, will be our platform to test technologies specifically dedicated to twin-engine helicopters.”
The existing FlightLab platform is built around a specific H130 light-single aircraft, while the DisruptiveLab, which will also feature a hybrid-electric powertrain, is a clean-sheet design. Both these aircraft are located at the manufacturer’s headquarters in Marignane, France.