Hill Helicopters records over 200 HX50 sales; prototypes to fly in 2022

Avatar for Oliver JohnsonBy Oliver Johnson | June 15, 2021

Estimated reading time 8 minutes, 40 seconds.

Hill Helicopters has sold over 200 of its clean-sheet luxury five-seater HX50, the manufacturer has revealed, and is on schedule to fly the first of three prototypes next year.

Hill Helicopters is building three prototypes of the HX50, and will perform the first flight of the type in 2022. Hill Helicopters Image
Hill Helicopters is building three prototypes of the HX50, and will perform the first flight of the type in 2022. Hill Helicopters Image

The upstart manufacturer, based in Rugeley, just north of Birmingham in the U.K., began taking orders for the turbine-powered HX50 when it emerged from stealth mode in August 2020. Company founder and chief engineer Jason Hill admitted that it took a few months for awareness of the type to spread, but said the orders “really started flooding in” around the end of the year.

“We [then] sold out our first pre-order program of 100 aircraft very, very quickly,” he said. “We launched another program [of 100 aircraft] and then that one sold out within three or four months as well.”

Potential customers need to pay a non-refundable deposit to secure an HX50, which has a base price of just £495,000 (US$665,000). “Whatever the deposit they put down, they get double the discount,” said Hill.

Hill Helicopters is designing the striking HX50 from the component level up. In addition to designing a futuristic and glamorous-looking airframe, the manufacturer is developing its own 500-horsepower turbine engine (the GT50) to power the aircraft, and creating its own avionics suite (the Hill Digital Cockpit).

The program has recorded customers from 28 countries to date, with large numbers in the U.K., Europe, the U.S., Canada, South America, Russia, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.

“We’ve been delighted with the response that the aircraft has had in the market and the support that we’ve received from the existing helicopter owner community,” said Hill. “By engaging with us early, not only do people secure the earliest possible delivery of their aircraft, but they also get to shape the program itself.”

On that note, he added that his team had received “lots of really valuable feedback” from customers to help guide the HX50’s creation. “It’s like a sort of customer clinic on steroids,” he said.

Production of the HX50 scheduled to being in “late summer” 2023, with Hill Helicopters aiming to produce 250 aircraft in the first year. Hill said the factory will ultimately be capable of producing up to 500 aircraft per year.

One of the notable aspects of Hill Helicopters’ approach to producing the HX50 — and the element that is allowing it to accelerate the type’s development and entry to the market — is the fact it will debut as an experimental category, amateur-built model (thereby bypassing many of the regulatory layers associated with a full certification process).

However, the HX50 won’t be available as a kit for homebuilding; customers will be required to assemble their aircraft in a two-week factory course alongside licensed engineers.

Hill insisted this approach won’t slow the company’s production capability.

“When you look at experimental aircraft from the past . . . they were designed very much to enable people to put them together with a minimum of infrastructure, the minimum of tools and a minimum of investment,” he said. “The inevitable compromise that you get there is you end up needing loads and loads of man hours and loads and loads of labor to make up for all the equipment that you haven’t got.

“When you bring people into a factory environment and supervise them with your own aero engineers and technicians, then you can essentially get them working [at speed] as if they were factory operatives.”

Hill stressed, however, that the build component would add value far beyond meeting legal requirements to qualify as an experimental aircraft.

“It’s very much a combination of a build school but also a properly integrated technical safety course,” he said. “[It will give] customers insight into things that they wouldn’t ordinarily get to see, like the inner workings of your engine, or the inner workings of your gearboxes.”

There are currently about 45 people contributing to the HX50 program, with that number set to grow to 150 in 2023. Hill Helicopters Image
There are currently about 45 people contributing to the HX50 program, with that number set to grow to 150 in 2023. Hill Helicopters Image

In terms of the development towards the three flying prototypes, Hill said design work is continuing apace on some of the aircraft’s “less primary” systems, while the team is also designing and building test rooms.

“We’ve just taken on a bigger development facility so that we’ve got the additional floor space that we need to build to house all of the test rigs and the equipment that we need to be able to test the aircraft on the ground,” he said.

The new facility will house the program through the production of the prototypes while a larger, 250,000-square-foot production facility with adjoining heliport is built.

“It’s hugely motivating to know that there’s a desire for what we produce, and the market really is there as I thought it always was,” said Hill. “Knowing how many people we’ve now got in our sales pipeline, I think the moment we fly the sales will go absolutely berserk. And that’s a very exciting and motivating prospect for us.”

The manufacturer has also released the first of a new mini-documentary series following the development of the airframe, engine and avionics through to the HX50’s entry into service.

The first episode is on Hill Helicopters’ social media channels, but Hill said he hopes it will ultimately be picked up by a mainstream TV channel or streaming service.

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