Sikorsky and Eurocopter compete to build super-high-speed helicopters.
Sikorsky X2: The product of five years of research by what Sikorsky Innovations director Chris Van Buiten calls a “viciously small team of 50,” the X2 project is in its final stages. The team has met its goal of building a test helicopter that can reach speeds of up to 250 knots (288 mph) and is already developing the military version. Sikorsky envisions X2s zooming to search-and-rescue targets far faster than current copters, as well as ferrying people to oil rigs hundreds of miles offshore. The $50-million project, Van Buiten says, was a chance to “re-pioneer the helicopter.”
Eurocopter X3: In January 2008, engineers at Eurocopter set out to build a high-speed helicopter of their own. They wanted it to be fast, but they also wanted it to operate in a manner familiar to most pilots. The resulting X3 flies so much like a normal helicopter, says Jean-Michel Billig, the vice president of Eurocopter’s R&D team, that it “does not require any specific training.” And a helicopter based on X3 technology, he notes, will cost just 25 percent more to produce than Eurocopter’s conventional helicopters of the same size, such as the $10-million EC155.
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