The new green helicopter

Ian Frain provides an overview of the H160, the latest medium twin cab from Airbus Helicopters


In March 2015, at the annual Helicopter Association International (HAI) Heli Expo held in Orlando, Florida, Airbus Helicopters unveiled its new H160. The H160 is the start of the H series product line of helicopters, as well as rebranding the EC135, EC145 and EC155 as the H135, H145 and H155.

At the Paris Air Show in June 2011, the then Eurocopter announced it was developing the X4, a 5-tonne helicopter to replace the then EC155B1 and AS365N3 models. The company proposed the X4 would incorporate fly-by-wire controls and the blue edge active tracking rotor system, amongst other innovative systems.

In early 2014, Eurocopter was rebranded as Airbus Helicopters; the result of an across-the-board re-organisation of all the aerospace, defence and space business segments in EADS (European Aerospace Defence Systems), renaming products and rebranding the company itself.

Come Heli Expo 2015 at Orlando in March of that year, and after months of speculation, Airbus Helicopters unveiled the X4 mock up, and subsequently announced its designation as the H160. This signalled the start of all Airbus Helicopter models being designated by the H prefix; the H160 was defined by CEO Guillaume Faury as the world’s first environmentally-friendly helicopter, made possible using several features. These include a full composite airframe, which is robust in nature, a biplane stabilizer and an electricallypowered retractable landing gear, Blue Edge main rotor blades, a new canted Fenestron and twin 1,200shp (882kW) rated Safran Arrano engines. The helicopter is aimed at the corporate market, transport, offshore, emergency medical service and police roles.

Environmental engineering

Safran’s Turbomeca Arrano rated between 1,110 to 1,300shp (816 to 882kW) is designed to equip single and multi-engine helicopters in the light single two to three, and medium twin four to six tonne classes.

The Arrano has as a new generation compressor (which is linked to the EU Clean Skies research programme), a gyratory combustion chamber and a 3D printed combustion fuel injector nozzle. Another key feature is a thermodynamic core, developed for the Tech 800 technological demonstrator, an engine core demonstrator developed as part of the EU’s Clean Sky joint technology initiative. It is also worth noting that the Arrano yields between 10 and 15% lower fuel consumption than current engines in the same class.

A Tech 800 demonstrator engine made its first ground run at Safran’s facility in Bordes, France during April 2013.

Additive manufacturing processes used to produce components of the Arrano engine involve laser fusing of metal powder compounds, which makes it easier to produce complex shaped parts with a smaller manufacturing footprint.

Arrano engine bench tests took place at Bordes for the first time during February 2014, then just under two years later the Arrano-powered H160 took to the skies for its maiden flight.

Smart assembly: building blocks

A striking image showing the articulation of the H160’s biplane stabilizer and canted Fenestron.

The H160 is the first helicopter to beneit from digital continuity in manufacturing, hence the comparison with building blocks.

Major component assemblies (MCA) enable diferent parts to be assembled in parallel at diferent locations. For example, the blades are made at Le Bourget, the rear fuselage is produced in Albacete, Spain, and the front and central fuselage are manufactured Donauwörth, Germany.

The MCAs are similar to technology used in the aerospace industry, a plug and play system that focuses on providing the customer with the ability to choose or adapt their aircraft’s mission requirements, for up to twenty-four weeks before delivery.

Production teams verify the engineering department’s data in a process called the ring. The digital chain of information can be checked at every step of the manufacturing process, by the operator zero campaign, which, along with a paperless shop loor, 3D publications and work cards, passes the savings on to the customer. Overall this means that with the addition of MCAs to existing blocks can see the H160 built, assembled and ready for operation in just 40 days.

In January 2018, during a pre-production run, an H160 aircraft was itted with its rear fuselage in the facility at Albacete, Spain, thus making this the first successful component assembly for the H160 programme.

Green is blue

The first pre-serial H160 has been fitted with its rear fuselage, the first major component assembly having been pre-assembled in Albacete, Spain. Eric Raz/Airbus Helicopters

By the late summer of 2015, Airbus Helicopters’ Bluecopter demonstrator, a hybrid H135 demonstrator, had already lown 28 light hours. Dubbed eco-friendly, the hybrid platform uses transversal technologies that can be applied across all of Airbus Helicopters’ current and future product lines. Bluecopter achieved a 40% reduction in fuel burn, and lower CO2 emissions. In terms of noise, the level generated by the Bluecopter was approximately 10 EPNdB lower, in line with and well below the ICAO noise certiication limits. The EPNdB is efective perceived noise in decibels.

The reduced noise footprint also results from the Fenestron shrouded tail rotor with optimized blade and stator designs. An active rudder on the tail fin, and an acoustic liner within the shroud are other notable features of the Fenestron that contribute to the reduced noise footprint. A five blade bearingless main rotor system features BlueEdge style blades with a large diameter and resultant reduced blade tip speed.

The Bluecopter engine has an eco-mode, which is based on an automatic control system. When this function is used, one engine can be shut down while leaving the other one running, which in the end equates to a reduction in fuel consumption and an increase in overall engine efficiency.

Babcock is the global launch customer for the H160 after signing a five-year frame agreement for the purchase of a fleet of H160s destined for emergency medical services and other critical service missions. Airbus Helicopters

Helionix: the heart of the system

The heart of the H160 is the Helionix avionics system, a human machine interface (HMI) comprising two computers and a unique cockpit display layout featuring four 6 x 8-inch (150 x 200mm) touchscreens designed to ease the pilots’ workload and subsequently lead to safer operations. The Helionix avionics system was certified by EASA in 2016.

The systems key feature is a four-axis autopilot, which allows the pilot(s) to concentrate more on flying the machine. Paul Magno of website Helicopter Maintenance provides a simple explanation of helicopter autopilots: “A three-axis system provides pitch, roll and yaw axis stabilization around the pilot’s desired attitude and heading reference. In a four-axis system there is also a collective axis, where the autopilot provides collective (power) control.”

Also contributing to reducing the crew workload is the use of the first limit indicator. This highlights all the engine instrument data, which subsequently goes into one single indicator.

The pilot’s situational awareness and safety is enhanced by the use of a digital map, a traffic advisory service, a traffic collision avoidance system, helicopter terrain avoidance system and a synthetic vision system. Other systems are under development, which include enhancing the SVS, automated dependent surveillancebroadcast (ADS-B), and a helicopter terrain awareness and warning system.

In March 2018, the worldwide fleet of helicopters equipped with Helionix reached 100,000 flight hours. Jean-Jazques Mevel, head of the Helionix programme said: “Helionix is a family concept that has been hailed by users for its intuitive human machine interface and autopilot features, which allow pilots to concentrate more fully on the flight itself and increase flight safety”.

Over a three-year period leading up to the H160’s 2015 unveiling, Airbus Helicopters collaborated with Canadian avionics company Esterline to build the Helionix avionics system. The H160 Helionix system includes the Esterline CMA-9000 light and radio management system and the CMA-5024 GPS landing system sensor.

Airbus Helicopters

The CMA-9000 is a compact single box, that supports next generation ADS-B surveillance technology thus combining the satellite-based wide area augmentation system and the performance-based required navigation performance (RNP RNAV) system.

The CMA-5024 SBAS/GPS sensor provides navigation and SBAS (satellite-based augmentation system) approach capability, and is fully ADS-B compliant.

The 5024 uses four SBAS and twenty GPS continuous channels with full message processing, and can host the entire SBAS LPV approach database or can accept SBAS inal approach segment from the light management system; LPV is localizer performance with vertical guidance. The LPV is the highest precision GPS/WAAS enabled instrument approach procedure for helicopter crews.

Infographic of the H160M destined for the three French armed services.

Takes shape and flight

On June 13, 2015, the H160 test campaign commenced with the first prototype F-WWOG (c/n PT1), equipped with Pratt & Whitney PW210 engines, making a light lasting 40 minutes in ground efect. A couple of days later, the helicopter achieved a speed of 130kts (240km/h). In the following months the aircraft lew up to an altitude of 10,000ft (3,048m) and reached speeds of 175kts (324km/h), while at same time the second prototype F-WWPL (c/n PT2) was in development. On January 27, 2016, PT2 took of for the first time from Airbus Helicopters’ facility at Marignane. Come mid-May 2016, PT1 and PT2 had between them 140 hours’ light time with PT2 flying up to a ceiling of 20,000ft (6,096m) and performing 2.2g turns.

Airbus Helicopters partnered with the avionics company Thales and light simulator company Helisim (a joint venture between Airbus Helicopters, Thales and DCI) in June 2016 to develop a full light simulator (FFS) for the H160. The FFS is designed to support the entry of the helicopter into operation, ofering future customers a series of training packages for realistic scenarios available in this Level D type simulator, which will be based at the Helisim simulation centre in Marignane.

The Level D light simulator has six degrees of freedom, outside world horizontal ield of view of at least 150 degrees with a collimated (distant focus) display, and special visual and motion efects, thus creating the highest idelity with actual sight.

Aircraft PT1 completed hot and high summer trials by the summer of 2016 followed by PT2 conducting low and high temperature tests in a Vienna-based climate chamber during January 2017, and thereafter to Canada for cold trials at Yellowknife in the Northwest Territories.

A third prototype F-WWPA (c/n PT3) made its first light on October 2017 by which date PT1 and PT2 had clocked 500 hours of light time.

Executive decisions

At the annual European Business Aviation Conference Exhibition (EBACE) held in May 2016 at Geneva, Airbus Helicopters introduced a VIP H160 mock-up with a Pegasus Design cabin interior. Pegasus is a Monaco-based specialist interior and exterior design and supervision service company for the corporate jet marketplace.

Come EBACE 2017, Airbus launched a dedicated private and business aviation helicopter brand dubbed ACH, thus a tailored corporate version is designated as the ACH160.

During Heli Expo 2018, Airbus Helicopters announced the first order for four corporate ACH160s to an undisclosed North American customer. Under this order, there is an option to deliver one helicopter with an interior supplied by Airbus Corporate Helicopters dubbed Stylence; the other three will be delivered as ACH Exclusive variants.

Another first for the H160 was the first order from an undisclosed Latin American-based corporate customer in April.


One area of Airbus Helicopters, which provides the customer with the necessary support to keep their helicopter operations running eiciently and safely, is called HCare. HCare is a round-the-clock service that covers a variety of tasks from maintenance, material management and technical training to name but a few. There other HCare services available such as the HCare First for Airbus Corporate Helicopters’ customers.

Heading West

At the end of February, Heli Expo 2018 started in Las Vegas, Nevada where H160 F-WWPL (c/n PT2) made its international debut with an appearance at the trade show.

During the expo, Babcock became the launch customer for H160s configured for the parapublic role, ordering a fleet specifically for that role.

Babcock aviation, formerly known as the Bond Aviation Group, provides two services, Mission Critical Services Onshore (police, and air ambulance) and Mission Critical Services Offshore. At the biannual ILA Berlin Air Show, held at the end of April 2018, Airbus Helicopters exhibited an H160 mock up configured with an interior for the emergency medical service role.

After three days at the exhibition, PT2 departed on a three-month tour across North America, with stops in Dallas and Houston, giving demonstrations to local operators and pilots. The tour culminated in late May at Trenton, New Jersey and New York City. The helicopter made twenty-seven demonstration flights, and three ferry flights, totalling 27 hours and 10 minutes flying time and a total of 75 flight hours in the United States.

La Defense

During the Eurosatory 2018 Defence and Security show held in Paris during June, Airbus Helicopters showcased its H160M model and released the outline of their three variants.

La Direction générale de l›armement (the Directorate general of armaments) announced military version, the H160M, will form the basis of its next generation rotorcraft. Known as the Helicoptere Interarmees Leger (HIL), the H160M looks set to replace legacy helicopters across the three French armed services starting with the Aviation Légère de l’Armée de Terre’s SA342M Gazelle, and AS555 Fennec for the anti-armour role, battlefield surveillance, and light utility missions. The Aviation Légère de l’Armée de Terre is the light aviation branch of the French Army.

Then the Aéronautique Navale (Naval Aviation) will use the HIL to replace its Alouette IIIs, AS365N3 and AS565F Panthers for anti-submarine warfare, anti-surface warfare, search and rescue, and over the horizon targeting for the mother ship (either a missile armed frigate or destroyer), and will be configured for ship operations with folding blades.

The Armée de l’Air (Air Force) will be replacing its AS555 Fennecs and SA330 Pumas in the armed interception role (a unit based at BA107 Villacoublay outside Paris conducts patrols over the capital for counter terrorist response) and combat search and rescue. The latter mission will involve long range missions that will require an aerial refuelling capability necessitating a retractable probe, plus a fast roping capability.

A Safran Turbomeca Arrano engine on prototype H160 PT2 F-WWPL. Rated between 1,110 to 1,300shp (816 to 882kW), the Arrano is designed to equip single and multi-engine helicopters in the light single two to three, and medium twin four to six-tonne classes. Ian Frain
The H160’s cockpit features four 6 x 8-inch touchscreens designed to ease the pilots’ workload and subsequently lead to safer operations. Ian Frain

H is the future

The H160 is the promoted by Airbus Helicopters as an environmentally friendly rotorcraft, which taken literally is a first for the industry. With the necessary power and resilience, the H160 is equipped to carry out missions ranging from corporate, parapublic and military. Technologies used in the airframe structure, the Helionix avionics systems, and the main rotorhead help to ensure the H160 can adapt and handle demanding operational missions in a clean and efficient manner. The European Union Clean Skies initiative is aimed at reducing aircraft CO2 emissions and noise by using innovative technology in the industry.

The fenestron shrouded tail rotor, synonymous with the Airbus Helicopters’ product line for half a century, reduces the equivalent noise footprint of a conventional helicopter thus the H160’s fenestron is mounted at 12° off centre. Fuel consumption is reduced not only by a single engine use option but also by composites used in the fuselage construction thus making the airframe lighter. Blue Edge main rotor blades also contribute to noise reduction with their double-swept rotor tip and reduced blade-vortex interaction that occurs when the blade interacts with the vortex caused by the spinning main rotor blades ahead. When the company was experimenting with Blue Edge blades on an H155B, it found that they reduced noise levels by 3 decibels while at the same time contributed to greater fuel efficiency.

Many of the H160’s features are advantageous to the crew and passengers including excellent external visibility for the pilots and television cameras that project images to any of the four multi-function digital cockpit displays as part of the Helionix system. Helionix is also advantageous in that fewer post-flight checks are required thus allowing the pilots to take off quicker.

Passengers sit in a comfortable large cabin offering air conditioning, windows that offer panoramic views, and last but not least, the chance to enjoy flying smoothly at high speed with low sound levels and significantly less vibration. The unique biplane stabilizer on the fuselage tail contributes to maintaining level flight; prototype PT3’s stabilizer has also been fitted with temporary metal edges.

Airbus Helicopters launched the H160’s flight test campaign with prototype aircraft PT1 in June 2015. Thierry Rostang/Airbus Helicopters