The Eurocopter Group is working on a concept aircraft that's a hybrid of a helicopter and a fixed-wing plane, the company announced today.
Dubbed the X3, the concept--which looks mostly like a helicopter, but with airplane propellers at either side--is designed to offer "the speed of a turboprop-powered aircraft" while boasting the hovering and vertical take-off and landing capabilities of a helicopter.
Ultimately, Eurocopter hopes to sell its concept to organizations that require "maximum cruising speed." It said that the hybrid rotorcraft could come in especially handy on search-and-rescue missions and other highly time-sensitive operations by coast guard, medevac, and special forces units. On a more mundane level, the aircraft could serve as an intercity shuttle, Eurocopter said.
Aircraft makers have been trying to combine rotary-wing and fixed-wing capabilities since the early days of powered flight in the 20th century, with varying degrees of success. The Amelia Earhart era, for instance, saw hybrid designs such as the Pitcairn PAA-1 autogyro. In recent years, the U.S. military has deployed the tilt-rotor MV-22 Osprey to combat zones in Iraq.
For its uncommon design, Eurocopter uses two turboshaft engines to power a five-blade main rotor system atop the aircraft as well as two propellers installed on stubby fixed wings on either side of the fuselage.
The X3 was first flown on September 6 in France.
The company said that it plans to continue testing the concept through December until the aircraft hits 180 knots (207 mph). Ultimately, Eurocopter hopes to open the X3 up in March to see if it can handle a sustained cruising speed of 220 knots (253 mph).