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Safran developing new engine for single-engine helicopters

By Oliver Johnson | February 20, 2024

Estimated reading time 5 minutes, 42 seconds.

Safran Helicopter Engines is developing a new engine to potentially replace its Arriel for single-engine rotorcraft.

Speaking to journalists ahead of Safran Helicopter Engines’ participation at HAI Heli-Expo 2024, Cedric Goubet, the company’s CEO, said the company is maturing technology bricks on demonstrators for a new project “anticipating the evolution or the replacement of our Arriel engines.”

Technology bricks are individual elements of a design that can be developed independently and used when mature. He said these technology bricks would also support other types of engines.

“It’s a versatile project,” said Goubet. “We can decide [the applicability of the technology bricks] when we have reached the right level of maturity in terms of technology and also manufacturability.”

The latter, he said, was an important consideration, especially given the challenges the company is facing in keeping up with the current demand for engines.

The project is part of a program to develop new engine versions for new helicopters, and is covered by a confidentiality agreement, said Goubet — so few details were given.

Goubet said the engines will be “based off our knowledge and experience . . . to leverage further for more disruptive design.”

The use of 3D printing or additive manufacturing to create some of the components, he said, will be key.

The first run of an Arriel engine took place 50 years ago, and the engine family — of which there are more than 20 versions — has now logged more than 65 million flight hours.

The move is part of a significant ramp-up in investment in research and development (R&D) activities from Safran Helicopter Engines, with the main focus being to create powerplants that produce fewer emissions.

“What we are looking at is in the range of 15- to 20-percent improvement in terms of fuel efficiency and fuel consumption,” said Goubet.

Safran is, for example, a major partner of Airbus Helicopters on its DisruptiveLab and Racer demonstrators.

The former is targeting a 50 percent reduction in fuel consumption through a new aerodynamic architecture, a modified thermal engine, and the use of a 250 kW electric motor for hybrid propulsion.

The latter is a high-speed demonstrator powered by two Aneto engines, and will eventually trial an “Eco mode” that will set one engine to idle in cruise flight to increase efficiency and reduce emissions. The aircraft is set to begin flight tests in the next few weeks.

Goubet said the company is also becoming increasingly involved in offering solutions for what it terms “new air mobility” — generally known as advanced or urban air mobility.

“We are developing bricks for a turbo generator with a thermal engine — for example, an Arrano engine — with a an electricity generator supplied by our sister company, Safran Electrical & Power,” said Goubet. The company is calling this a “turbo gen,” and said it will be able to deliver up to 600 kWh of power. The turbo gen has been selected to power the aircraft being developed by U.S. start-up Electra.

While development work on the next generation of engines begins, Safran is completing the upgrade of its current product line with the Ariel 2K — for Leonardo’s upcoming light single AW09, and supporting the entry into service of the Aneto, its most powerful engine.

The Aneto began operation last year on the LeonardoAW189K with Doha, Qatar-based Gulf Helicopters, and is due to enter the South American market this summer with Brazilian offshore operator Omni Helicopters International.

Goubet said the feedback from the Aneto’s operation to date was “so far, so good.”

“We’ll have another test for this engine very soon in Brazil, where the helicopter and engines are born to be operated much more intensively,” he said. “But what we have so far on the field in the Middle East is very promising.”

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