It’s an exciting time for new helicopter design. Development, testing and certification can take a decade, so the fact that two cutting-edge models from Bell and Airbus will be certified by the FAA this year, and three other innovative choppers are moving in that direction, is a plus for lovers of the rotorcraft. The Bell 525 Relentless and ACH160 are rewriting the rules by minimizing vibration, external noise, and at the same time, accelerating speed, range and cabin comfort. Both will come in executive versions.
The five-person Hill HX50, with its James-Bond-cool looks, has a DIY angle: Owners can work side by side with Hill’s engineers in completing their personal helicopters. The SH09 from Swiss aerospace company Kopter is like the Swiss Army knife of whirlybirds, designed for many missions from search and rescue to executive travel.
Leonardo’s AW609 is now on its third generation of design, under three different corporate owners, but its long-tested tilt-rotor design looks like the futuristic vertical takeoff and landing aircraft that seem to be popping up everywhere. These new designs are a big push forward as aerospace design moves into the next explosive stage in its history.
Bell 525 — The Relentless
With FAA certification expected this year, the Bell 525 promises breakthrough design features, including a best-in-class top cruise of 184 mph, 667-mile range, and smooth ride. Up to 90 percent of vibrations from the main rotor will not reach the cabin. With an estimated $15 million price, the Relentless, as it is dubbed by Bell, can be configured for up to 20 passengers. Bell is also promising a lower external noise level as well as improved acoustic comfort in the cabin. The 550’s VIP version, which ranges from 4 to 12 cabin seats, will have bespoke interiors by Mecaer Aviation. The Milan completions center has a reputation for meticulous, exquisite work in leathers and composites. Besides seat numbers, owners will have options like a central telescopic table with pop-up monitor and central cabinet with an extractable table. Pilots will appreciate fly-by-wire flight controls, Garmin’s G-5000 avionics, and the new side stick that add ease to flying.
Leonardo AW609 — The Tilt
The third generation of the Leonardo AW609 (formerly the AgustaWestland 609, and before that, the Bell/Agusta 609) just might be the charm. Determined to match an airplane’s speed, range, and altitude with the versatility of a helicopter, Leonardo has continued modernizations that Agusta started over 10 years ago. With an operational ceiling of 25,000 ft and a synthetic vision system, the AW609 can be flown above inclement weather and even into known icing conditions—day or night. With wing and fuselage largely constructed of composite materials, the AW609 has a pressurized cabin with five feet of headroom, the space to accommodate nine passengers in a typical configuration, with the flexibility to seat 12 passengers. At speeds of up to 316 mph, the tiltrotor has a range of 806 miles, and up to 1,151 miles with auxiliary fuel tanks.
The AW609 was nearly a casualty in the Very Light Jet boom in the mid-2000s. There’s still no timeline for certification, but it could actually be a frontrunner among all the new VTOL projects being proposed. It could actually be the first VTOL focused on civilians. Without a firm price yet, the company estimates the AW609 will cost between $20 and $30 million.
Airbus ACH160 —The New Generation
Airbus’s first H-generation rotorcraft introduces 68 new patented technologies that “lift the passenger experience with the smoothest and quietest of flying experiences,” according to the company. The H160 is the first to feature Airbus’s new Blue Edge main rotor blades, which reduce exterior noise levels by 50 percent. With a cruise speed of 184 mph, the H160 can carry 12 passengers at distances of up to 138 miles. The VIP version, called the ACH160, has a price tag starting at $14 million. It has already been six years since its first test flight in Jun 2015, so the helicopter has received the European certification. It’s expected to get FAA approval any day now.
Hill HX50 —The DIY Promise
Envisioned about 13 years ago by Chief Engineer Jason Hill, the HX50 is Hill Helicopter’s promise of a private pilot’s personal rotorcraft. With space for five flyers, including the pilot, and fuel for three hours, the HX50 was designed for private owners, not fleet operators like charter and fractional programs.
The company says private pilots typically fly less than 50 hours per year, hence the HX50’s namesake, which also refers to Hill’s DIY design. Customers have the option to build 51 percent of their new helicopter—but not in their own garage. Based on the tradition that private pilots maintain their own aircraft, Hill invites customers to its factory in the UK to complete the build of their helicopter, under the close supervision of the company’s engineers and production technicians.
The HX50’s design, which includes a retractable landing gear to reduce its drag, has a three-blade rotor system. It can reach a cruise speed of 161 mph and a range of up to 806 miles. With a price tag just under $600,000 and a simple digital cockpit with direct iPad integration, Hill’s promise of a pilot’s DIY dream is expected to start to appear at UK airfields by 2023.
Leonardo Kopter SH09 — The Multi-Mission Specialist
The SH09 addresses multiple missions with a single product. Kopter used advanced composite materials instead of aerospace aluminum to create a lightweight airframe to enhance performance, a robust structure for improved crash resistance, and a higher tolerance against corrosion, humidity, and salinity. The SH09’s composite-cell architecture also yields a higher cabin volume, while meeting the highest safety standards. The helicopter can reach 161 mph with up to eight passengers, and a range of 495 miles. The SH09’s third prototype was flown in Mollis, Switzerland. With a starting price of $3.3 million, the SH09 is expected to obtain European certification by the end of 2022.