Airbus Helicopter's announcement at the Paris Air Show about the beginning of the concept phase for a new helicopter, currently called the X6, didn't quite knock off the tip of everyone's tongue the fact that UTC has officially put Sikorsky out to bid, with Airbus being one of the company's whispered admirers. But it was anything but ignored.
The launch of the heavy-lift X6 begins a two-year definition period on this next-generation rotorcraft that will be tailored for and targeted to the civil market, specifically oil and gas, but Airbus says it will also certainly be suited for search and rescue, VIP, and other applications that could include military variants.
Major architecture and design choices for the twin-engine aircraft will be assessed to meet customer operational requirements during the concept phase, supported by a significant dialog with customers worldwide to validate the X6’s value creation for their operations. Major design architecture choices to be evaluated, and customer input sought, during the next two years
The X6 is the newest arrival in Airbus Helicopters’ H generation, continuing on from the success of the recently unveiled H160, which took its first flight in June. (Airbus Helicopters recently renamed its product range replacing the former “EC” designation with an “H.”)
“X6 will be for the heavy segment in the next decade what the H160 is today for the mediums. It will set new standards in the industry not only for design, but for its production strategy as well, as we will rely on the industrial capacities of our core countries, including the upcoming pillar in Poland,” explained Guillaume Faury, the President & CEO of Airbus Helicopters. “Our objective is to bring to the market the most efficient helicopter [that] will evolve in the future.”
In defining and developing the X6, Airbus Helicopters is striving for a next-generation, twin-engine rotorcraft that is mature and all-weather ready—including full de-icing—from the first delivery. One of the major innovations to be integrated on X6 is Airbus Helicopters' first use of a fly-by-wire flight control system. Turbomeca has already eagerly raised its hand for the X6's engine configuration, but it is quite likely other hands from North America will be raised high as well.
As the latest program to benefit from Airbus Helicopters, the X6 will share commonality features with the company’s latest rotorcraft – including both the new H175 (considered to be in the "super medium" class) and H160.
Once adequate program maturity has been achieved in the concept phase, a subsequent development phase will follow, leading to an X6 entry into service anticipated in the 2020s.
Flying more than 3 million flight hours per year, the company’s in-service fleet includes some 12,000 helicopters operated by more than 3000 customers in 152 countries. Airbus Helicopters employs more than 23,000 people worldwide and in 2014 generated revenues of 6.5 billion Euros.