Early last month, an AS350 B3e Ecureuil operated by Airbus Helicopters Southeast Asia (AHSA) played an important role in a technology demonstration led by Airbus Group’s Defence and Space division that may one day see tourists traveling to space.
The project, known as the SpacePlane, aims to take passengers on short trips above the atmosphere in a jet designed to take off from a standard runway and then rocket to heights of around 100 kilometers thanks to a methane-oxygen engine.
The demonstrator tests, conducted off the coast of Singapore, were carried out to help understand how the aircraft would perform during the end-of-flight phase following a return from space.
To do this, the quarter-scale demonstrator needed to be dropped from an altitude of 10,000 feet (approximately 3,000 meters or nearly two miles). Airbus Group decided to perform this feat with a helicopter and the design expertise of AHSA.
AHSA’s design office conceived, produced and then tested the platform used to raise the SpacePlane from a barge located in the South China Sea. In addition, AHSA developed, planned and conducted the helicopter operations necessary to lift and carry the plane to the desired altitude before releasing it.
The novel lifting and separation system designed by AHSA enabled the scaled model to be carried as a helicopter under-slung load and released upon command from a control panel in the helicopter cabin.
An AHSA pilot performed the actual maneuver flying an AS350 B3e and supported by a dedicated AHSA test team stationed both on the barge and in the helicopter.
The flight test campaign lasted approximately 12 flying hours and culminated in the successful drop. Feedback from the test will be used to advance the design process to the next pre-development phase.
The demonstrator used in the tests was built by Airbus Defence and Space, in partnership with HOPE Technik and Airbus Group Innovations, the corporate network of research centers of Airbus Group.
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