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The Airbus Racer has flown for the first time at Airbus Helicopters' headquarters in Marignane, France. Airbus Photo

Airbus Racer high speed demonstrator records first flight

By Oliver Johnson | April 25, 2024

Estimated reading time 3 minutes, 21 seconds.

The Airbus Racer high speed compound demonstrator has performed its first flight, recording about 30 minutes in the air at Airbus Helicopters’ headquarters in Marignane, France.

The flight marks the start of a two-year test campaign in which Airbus is aiming for 200 flight hours on the aircraft. The manufacturer expects to progressively open the aircraft’s flight envelope and then demonstrate its high-speed capabilities, with a target of 220 knots (over 400 km/h) at full speed.

“We will explore completely the possible capacity of the Racer . . . not only speed, but what we can offer in terms of payload, range, [and] maneuverability,” Julien Guitton, head of the Racer program, told journalists during a briefing earlier this year. “[There are] a lot of parameters that we want to explore and concretely demonstrate.”

The Racer builds on the legacy of Airbus’s X3 demonstrator, bringing the compound architecture — of fixed wings and lateral rotors for energy-efficient lift and propulsion in forward flight, and a main rotor for vertical flight capability — closer to an operational configuration.

A second phase of flight tests will include the installation of an engine that will allow Airbus to trial its long-planned “Eco Mode” — in which one of its two Safran Aneto-1X engines is put into idle during cruise flight to enhance efficiency. The manufacturer believes this could reduce fuel burn by about 15 percent.

The Airbus Racer being assembled in February in preparation for its first flight in April. Oliver Johnson Photo

“With its 90 patents, Racer is the perfect example of the level of innovation that can be achieved when European partners come together,” said Bruno Even, CEO of Airbus Helicopters in a press release announcing the news. “This first flight is a proud moment for Airbus Helicopters and for our 40 partners in 13 countries. I look forward to watching this demonstrator pioneer high speed capabilities and develop the eco-mode system that will contribute to reducing fuel consumption.” 

The first flight marks the end of the Racer’s development under the framework of the European Clean Sky 2 project.

“Clean Sky 2 was a wonderful opportunity and initiative. But now we want to go further and show what could be the future of high speed,” said Guitton in the briefing earlier this year. “We need to go further — that’s clear.”

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