GE Aviation Lends its Expertise to Airbus’s RACER – A Hybrid Helicopter with 3D Printed Cradles

3D Printing in Aerospace
Airbus plans to start assembling the first RACER prototype this year. The maiden flight should take place in 2020.
3D Printing in Aerospace
Above: Airbus’s RACER hybrid helicopter/Image Credit: Airbus

GE Aviation Integrated Systems – a GE Aviation company, is lending its technical expertise to build Airbus’s RACER – short for ‘rapid and cost-effective rotorcraft’. RACER is a hybrid helicopter-like aircraft that combines the versatility of a helicopter and airplanes. Airbus Helicopters had revealed RACER’s high-speed demonstrator configuration in mid-2017.

Clean Sky 2 Research Programme

3D Printing in Aerospace
Above: Ric Parker, Chairman Clean Sky/Image Credit: Cleansky

Clean Sky is a European research programme aimed towards developing innovative, cutting-edge technology to reduce CO2, gas emissions and noise levels produced by aircraft. 

Funded by the EU’s Horizon 2020 programme, Clean Sky contributes to strengthening European aero-industry collaboration, global leadership and competitiveness.

Under the Clean Sky project, more than 600 entities from around 27 countries are working together to develop “environmentally benign” aircraft tech, with the goal of reducing fuel consumption and carbon dioxide emissions by 50 percent, nitrous oxide emissions by 80 percent and external noise by 50 percent, compared to 2000 levels.

Airbus’s RACER – Rapid and Cost-Effective Rotorcraft

3D Printing in Aerospace
Above: Airbus’s RACER hybrid helicopter designwork/Image Credit: Airbus

The RACER is one such concept aircraft by Airbus being built for the Clean Sky 2 research programme , which the company claims will achieve cruising speed topping 400 kilometers per hour, which would make it one of the world’s fastest helicopters.

The RACER aims to provide a cost-effective, fast & agile alternative to traditional helicopters by incorporating cutting-edge technologies to make a real, sustained and sustainable difference. According to Tomasz Krysinski, head of research and innovation at Airbus Helicopters

“The RACER is 50 percent faster than a traditional helicopter, but has lower costs, and brings together several new technologies.”

The body of the aircraft is shaped like a helicopter. It has a large rotor on top, but it has no tail rotor. Instead, it has two skeletal wings. Each has a propeller that faces backwards, with one moving clockwise and the other counter-clockwise. These propellers, combined with the low-drag wings, help the RACER maintain lift while picking up speed.

The GE Aviation team is working on the RACER’s subsystems and components, including the transmission system for both the rotor and wing’s propellers. The engineers completely redesigned the aircraft’s cradles, the part that connects the wings to the gearboxes.

The cradles of the RACER will be made of a lightweight material using 3D-printed casting moulds to reduce weight, part count and cost. This is have a greater impact on the environment and could bring cheaper, greener, and speedier air travel.

Speaking on the use of 3D printed cradles in the RACER, Paul Mandry, engineering programme leader for GE Aviation, said, “This is the first time we’ve ever designed such a complex cast component. In addition to the money we will save by using the 3D printed parts, the RACER’s lighter weight, which means significant savings on fuel costs over the lifetime of the aircraft (and a significantly gentler impact on the environment).

The RACER also incorporates several other new components jointly designed by Avio Aero and Airbus Helicopters, made using 3D printing — including heat exchangers for the RACER’s transmission, which must withstand extremely high temperatures and physical stresses.

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