An ambitious new helicopter concept emerging from the UK looks set to challenge the existing status quo in the helicopter industry world-wide.
The Hill Helicopters HX50 is a five-seat single with retractable landing gear that will present customers with high level of technology and automation in a similar vein as the SR22 and Icon A5 in the fixed-wing market, with lower acquisition and operating costs as key features of the offering.
With an MTOW of 1650 kg and a payload of 800 kg, the HX50 has a projected cruise of 140 KTAS and will hover at 10,000 feet out of ground effect on an ISO day at MTOW, and will execute a vertical climb of 500 fpm under those conditions.
"Fundamentally, the HX50 is the first clean-sheet helicopter in decades," said Chairman and Chief Engineer Jason Hill.
"Everything about this aircraft is new technology. We have our own new-technology engine that draws from a lot of automotive experience in terms of its manufacturing processes, we have a brand new composite fuselage that, rather than being comprised of thousands of little components, comes down to eleven key components that are bonded together.
"We have full manufacturing of the helicopter in-house, so we're not held [to] ransom by suppliers of key pieces of equipment. We've taken full control of everything we do in the manufacturing process."
The HX50 will feature brand-new glass avionics designed specifically for helicopter operations. Hill elected not to adopt existing glass cockpit systems because they were considered unsuitable for the point-to-point nature of helicopter operations.
Rather that adopt an existing powerplant, Hill Helicopters is working on their own engine, the FADEC-controlled GT50 turbo-shaft. The GT50 will output 500 shp, with 400 shp maximum continuous and 440 shp for take-off. Hill said that they decided to develop their own engine because none of the existing products suited the HX50.
"All aircraft are defined by the engine used to power them and nowhere is that more significant than in a helicopter where it's incredibly sensitive to weight," he said.
"When you look around at the options that were available for people seeking to make a light helicopter, if you want around 800 kg of payload then you're too big for the piston engine, the diesel engines have neither the power nor power-to-weight ratio to meet our requirements and the existing turbine engines are very expensive.
"So if you have little choice if you want to both the performance and the price point than to do it yourself."
Standard on the HX50 are leather seats, air conditioner, glass cockpit and a two-axis autopilot. Other features such as emergency floats, fixed skids and hook are offered as options, with most mission-specific equipment available.
The HX50 will initially be offered to private owners as essentially a non-certified kit aircraft, with customers being required to participate in the build enough to satisfy the demands of the Experimental category. A certified version, the HC50 for commercial operations, is planned to follow.
Hill Helicopters is expecting to deliver the first HX50s to customers in 2023. The opening sell price has been set at around $A932,000, with increases expected during development.