Eurocopter publicly unveiled its mutant X3 prototype yesterday. A cross between a helicopter and an airplane -- but with none of the complexity of a tiltrotor like the V-22 Osprey -- the X3 is designed to combine the vertical capabilities of a chopper with the speed advantages of a fixed-wing prop plane. If moved to production, the X3 might compete against Sikorsky's no-less-bizarre X2, which unofficially set a new helicopter speed record earlier this month when it was clocked at 290 mph in level flight.
Black Horison summarizes the X3's highlights:
The aircraft was shown to reporters for the first time during a ceremony at Istres airbase in the south of France, where the X3 - short for High-speed, long-range Hybrid Helicopter -- has been undergoing testing since the beginning of September.
Clearly recycled from the fuselage of an EC155, the demonstrator is a compound design equipped with two turboshaft engines powering a five-bladed main rotor and two propellers on stub wings. At the rear, the fenestron has been removed and replaced with a standard tail plane and twin-vertical stabilisers fitted with rudders.
Eurocopter says this configuration allows it to offer the speed of a turboprop-powered aircraft as well as the capabilities of a helicopter. The X3 flew for the first time on 6 September from Istres AB -- the flight test base of the French armed forces -- 24km southwest of the Eurocopter factory at Marignane.
X3 flight test video, narrated by gentlemen with very satisfying German accents, follows: