Sikorsky Helicopters recently announced it is producing a hybrid-electric eVTOL prototype. The crewless aircraft will help the Lockheed Martin subsidiary evaluate large aircraft designs, novel propulsion systems and control architectures for sustained hover, covering ranges of 500 nautical miles or more.
The Hybrid-Electric Demonstrator (HEX) will have a maximum gross weight of more than 7,000 pounds and help lead future efforts for both military and civilian efforts.
"As Sikorsky celebrates 100 years of flight innovations, it's fitting to highlight our continued commitment to safe and sustainable transformative flight," said Sikorsky President Paul Lemmo. "Sikorsky's HEX aircraft will provide critical insights into the possibilities of electric systems in VTOL aircraft. Ultimately, we want to show the potential of large, advanced air mobility vehicles to perform utility missions for the U.S. military and transport passengers between cities."RELATED STORY: How more automakers and the Postal Service are signing for eVTOL
Ultimately, Sikorsky expects to develop an entire series of such VTOL aircraft. Sikorsky's innovations team will design, build and integrate the HEX airframe and electric motors with the company's MATRIX autonomous flight control system, which aims to develop helicopters that can enter the battlefield without a manned crew.
Sikorsky said the flights show how helicopters could one day fly complex missions in reduced crew or autonomous mode. This would give Army commanders and aviators greater flexibility in how and when aircraft and pilots are used, especially in limited visibility or contested environments.
The HEX prototype will be outfitted with a CT7 turboshaft engine combined with a 1MW-class generator and associated power electronics, building on hybrid electric propulsion systems being developed by GE Aerospace for both NASA and the U.S. Army.
"Bringing innovative technology is a top priority for GE Aerospace," said Amy Gowder, President and CEO of defense andamp; systems at GE Aerospace. "We are committed to developing hybrid electric propulsion systems that save fuel and optimize performance for the military and commercial applications. We are thrilled to build off our existing work with NASA and the Army to offer to power Sikorsky's HEX aircraft and bolster the future of flight."