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Hill Helicopters debuts HX50 prototypes at UK launch

By Ben Forrest | December 6, 2023

Estimated reading time 8 minutes, 45 seconds.

Two HX50 prototypes — one with a wheeled undercarriage (left) and another on skids — were unveiled to the public for the first time on Dec. 6, 202. Hill Helicopters Photo

Hill Helicopters has unveiled two prototypes of the HX50, its three-bladed single-engine turbine aircraft, and provided new details about the HC50, the type’s planned commercial version.

The company debuted two tangible HX50 mock-ups — one with a wheeled undercarriage and another on skids — in a launch event for customers, media and potential buyers at the Imperial War Museum Duxford in Cambridgeshire, U.K.

“We’ve made a proper helicopter,” said Jason Hill, the company’s founder and chief engineer, in a livestreamed presentation that also featured company ambassadors Mischa Gelb and Ruben Dias.

“In terms of the operational aspects, we wanted this to feel like a magic carpet ride … it’s a thing of beauty,” said Jason Hill.

With the HX50, Hill Helicopters hopes to reinvigorate general aviation (GA) and attract new would-be pilots by improving affordability and reducing other barriers to aircraft ownership.

The company has called this a movement toward “GA 2.0,” and positioned it as a counterpunch to the ongoing flood of eVTOL aircraft, which some observers see as inevitable replacements for gas-powered helicopters.

The HX50 digital cockpit. Hill Helicopters Photo

Hill is touting its own GVTOL (green vertical take-off and landing) model, saying its aircraft engines — developed in-house — will run on carbon-neutral aviation fuel.

“We’ve got to make flying cool again,” said Jason Hill. “That’s what this is all about.”

The HX50 is a five-seat helicopter powered by Hill’s own GT50 Turbine Engine, with 500 shaft horsepower, a 140-knot (161-miles-per-hour) cruise speed and a maximum range of 700 nautical miles (1,296 kilometers), according to the company.

Its stated payload is 1,760 pounds (800 kilograms), with a base price of £595,000. The HC50 has a base price of £725,000 and has similar technical specifications, but is aimed at commercial uses, including charter services and aerial tours.

Hill Helicopters said it had sold 789 HX50s and 186 HC50s at the time of the Dec. 6, 2023, launch event. The company is making the HC50 available at a discounted launch rate (£625,000) until early next week, with an even steeper temporary discount (£575,000) for HX50 customers.

The company did not provide a comprehensive update on its manufacturing model, but has previously said it will require customers to help assemble their HX50 aircraft in a two-week factory course alongside licensed engineers. It’s unclear if that strategy will also apply to the HC50.

The HX50 has a three-blade main rotor, aimed at providing greater stability in windy conditions. Hill Helicopters Photo

Hill did stress the company’s vertically-integrated strategy, including making its own engines and other flight-critical elements. He cited this approach as key for controlling costs.

During the launch presentation, Mischa Gelb — a helicopter pilot, flight instructor, entrepreneur and YouTuber — asked Hill about safety assurances.

“It’s a brand-new engine,” said Gelb. “How do we know it’s going to be a safe engine?”

“There’s a number of reasons, but it’s the same as everything else that we’ve done on the project,” said Jason Hill. “This isn’t a brand-new engine. This is an engine that is a compendium, an assembly, of all of the best ideas — all of the things that have been proven in service on lots and lots of different engines over 70 years, that work really well.

“We’ve done a good job of bringing those components together, vertically integrating the manufacturing and then using the latest certification standards, the latest manufacturing methods, and the latest quality control and non-destructive testing methods, to make sure that what we’ve got is what we need to make a reliable engine.”

A large audience of customers, media and potential buyers gathered at the Imperial War Museum Duxford in Cambridgeshire, U.K., for the launch event. Hill Helicopters Photo

Hill also highlighted the aircraft’s three-bladed main rotor, which he said is designed to provide more “stiffness” (i.e., more stability) in windy conditions than a two-bladed setup.

Further back, the aircraft has an enclosed tail rotor and a “high-authority” horizontal stabilizer designed to “keep the ship level,” he said.

Visitors to the launch had the chance to sit in the HX50 cabin, outfitted with a functioning digital cockpit featuring two 15.6-inch screens and an iPad dock, among many other features.

Along with an in-depth focus on technical details, the company spent a large chunk of time explaining esthetic and functional choices more likely to catch the attention of aspiring pilots.

Jason Hill repeatedly compared the aircraft design to luxury automobiles, alluding to vehicle brands like Rolls-Royce and Range Rover. He also pointed to the HX50’s sleek outer appearance.

The HX50 takes several design cues from luxury automobiles. Hill Helicopters Photo

“It’s been beautifully sculpted … but fundamentally, it’s a tadpole with a long tail,” he said.

“It’s a teardrop that pushes through the air gently and then allows the air to collect smoothly behind it as it passes through [with] the least disturbance you can create in the air.

“We’re trying to keep the flow attached all the way over the body, which we do. And that’s the secret to low drag and high forward performance.”

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