Eurocopter's X3 high-speed hybrid helicopter demonstrator, which made its maiden flight in Sep 2010, attained 180 KTAS in level flight at a reduced level of engine power in November. In the flight testing performed so far, the flight envelope has been opened with and without autopilot to validate the basic stability and handling characteristics of the demonstrator aircraft. The X3 has reached an altitude of 12,500 ft and performed maneuvers with left and right turns at bank angles of up to 60°. In its 2nd set of flight tests, the X3 demonstrator is expected to reach sustained cruise speeds in excess of 220 kts.

Final assembly production of the next-generation Sikorsky S76D has commenced. Czech manufacturer Aero Vodochody, which has produced more than 250 S76 airframes for Sikorsky, is also manufacturing the S76D fuselage. In November it delivered the first production example to Sikorsky for final assembly operations.

Sikorsky will install the Pratt & Whit­ney Canada PW210S engines, rotor blades and gearboxes during final assembly, followed by acceptance flight tests and customer completions. Delivery of the first aircraft to the launch customer is slated for 2012.
Also in November, the S76D program entered into certification flight status in West Palm Beach FL. FAA sea-level certification is expected by 4Q2011. Two prototype aircraft are currently in flight status, with a third scheduled to join the fleet in early 2011.

Evolution of the Bell 412EP continues with engine and cockpit upgrades that will be available to customers in 2012. An STC project to extend the range of missions that can be performed by the 412EP is currently under way. The STC consists primarily of an engine and cockpit upgrade and will be available in 3-axis and 4-axis options.

The 2nd prototype Eurocopter EC­175 performed its first flight on Dec 17 at the manufacturer's MRS (Marignane, Marseille, France) facility. It validated basic handling qualities and system functionality for the twin-engine EC175, which is a joint program of Eurocopter and Aviation Industry Corp of China (AVIC).

Prototype number 2 is configured for oil and gas industry transportation operation, and includes emergency flotation gear, external life rafts, a full set of radio navigation equipment, HTAWS functionality, HUMS, a cargo sling and hoist, along with a high-performance air conditioning system.

As the pace of EC175 flight test and development gains momentum, the program's industrial activity is continuing on schedule. The airframe production line is operational at Harbin, China. Meanwhile, the helicopter final assembly line at MRS has received the 1st of the initial 2 Chinese-built airframes. Delivery of the 2nd airframe is expected in 1H2011. Eurocopter anticipates EC175 certification in 2H2011, enabling deliveries to begin in 2012.

Bell and the US Army Aviation Applied Technology Directorate (AATD) have signed a $30-million deal to develop state-of-the-art drive system technology under the 5-year Future Advanced Rotorcraft Drive System (FARDS) program, which focuses on critical performance and affordability-enhancing drive system technologies for the US Army's current and future fleet of rotorcraft, as well as commercial rotorcraft.

FARDS targets a 55% improvement in drive system power-to-weight ratio, a 35% reduction in production, operating and support costs, 90% automatic detection of critical failures and an 18-dB reduction in drive system-generated noise.