Take a look at a new and challenging project turning a helicopter into an airplane and vice versa - the Eurocopter X3.
Find out what makes it so special and how the engineers managed to enable it to hover like a
helicopter and cruise like an airplane.
This innovative hybrid helicopter might open up a whole new
market for Eurocopter: Short distance point to point
commuting – potentially a market worth some billion dollars…
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How the X3 will change the way people fly
Just when you thought the only way was up, Eurocopter provides a whole new perspective on helicopter flight. The X3 high-speed, long-range hybrid helicopter provides the best of both worlds when it comes to air manoeuvrability: a true helicopter for the vertical lift with airplane-like forward motion capabilities.
How did Eurocopter engineers square the circle?
The answer is a five-blade main rotor system and two propellers on short-span fixed wings. This combination gives the X3 the excellent vertical take-off and landing capabilities of a helicopter, along with aircraft-like fast cruise speeds and manoeuvrability. Eurocopter anticipates a wide range of uses for the X3 hybrid helicopter concept, including long-distance search and rescue (SAR) missions, coastguard duties, border patrol missions, passenger transport, offshore operations and inter-city shuttle services.
The X3 can be described as a perfect example of out-of-the-box thinking. Aviation engineers around the world dream of creating an aircraft that can take off and land like a helicopter and fly like a propeller-driven airplane. ‘Up and forward’ would be a highly lucrative alternative to conventional flight manoeuvres that need a long runway for take-off and landing. But even though the potential market for such vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) aircraft might be huge, up to now the attempts have not been successful enough to translate into a robust business model.
The first attempts to develop and build an aircraft that was a hybrid of a helicopter and an airplane can be traced back to the early 1940s. The first flights took place in 1957. Today, R&D efforts are being driven by the commercial growth of air traffic, as well as limited space at existing airports. According to Eurocopter, the X3 will be the model to make the difference.
Making the difference
At this stage, the X3 is a demonstrator, which means that it has been proved to serve its intended purpose.
The X3 has a maximum speed of 430 km/h. That is around 150 km/h (or almost 54 percent) faster than the fastest existing helicopter. In addition, the climbing speed, at almost 36 metres per second, is more than three times greater than the Eurocopter Tiger model or the American ‘Black Hawk’ transport helicopter.
Conventional helicopters use the rotor for both lift and thrust, but with wings, propellers and rotors at its disposal, Eurocopter configured the X3 specifically for cruising. In forward flight, the rotor is used for lift but not propulsion - although not all of the lift comes from the rotor. Actually, the rotor - which requires about 35 percent of the torque needed to hover - only provides about 60 percent of the aircraft’s lift, while the remaining 40 or so per cent of the lift comes from the wings.
Another interesting aspect is the ease of piloting. To go forward, the helicopter does not have to be tilted downwards. The propellers offer thrust and also counterbalance the main rotor’s torque. So there is no need for a tail rotor.
However, probably the biggest advantage of the X3 is its ability to land practically anywhere, with no need for a runway or even a lot of space. Combined with the advantages of flying faster and further than normal helicopters, experts see huge potential for mid- to long-range air transport. Take the distance between New York and Washington DC, Munich and Frankfurt, London and Liverpool, or Kyoto and Beijing. Mid-range routes could be serviced perfectly well with such high-speed hybrid aircraft. Their ability to land within any company’s grounds would result in substantial time savings. And the logistics of rescue and transport missions, whether military or commercial, would become much more efficient.
So another goal for the X3 will be to offer speedier journeys at a reasonable cost.
Innovation made easy
The maiden flight took place just three years ago, and a US showcase tour of the X3 model was completed in July 2012. The feedback from the American pilots and customers who tested the demonstrator was resoundingly positive.
If this business model for commercial mid- and long-range flights using flexible, reasonably priced aircraft that can take off and land basically anywhere proves to be successful, then models like the X3 will have a bright future ahead of them. Particular potential lies in the world’s booming oil and gas markets but also in search-and-rescue missions and VIP transport. Watch this video to see for yourself:
Kathrin Eckardt has been working at EADS since 2005 and is currently tasked with driving change within Cassidian, one of the four EADS divisions and a world-wide leader in defence and security solutions. We met Kathrin to discuss her role as Head of Change Management and Diversity, the necessities, opportunities and threats of change and the reason why change is often more feared than desired.
We are prone to sticking to our habits. ‘Never touch a running system’ is an attitude people tend to rely on. This routine, however, impedes change and with it, progress. Once humans have grown accustomed to circumstances, a neighbourhood or the people and processes at their workplace, they develop little ambition for change. Why is that so?
Human beings adapt to their environment in the best way possible. Once the perfect adjustment and routines are achieved, they show little ambition for change and the need for it is often denied. In the working environment change is often associated with threats. Will there be more work on my desk? Will I have to work in a different location? Is my job at risk? Much less focus is put on the opportunities that arise from change. Lots of innovations are only possible because people changed the way they work and behave.
Gaining resilience in a changing business environment
For Cassidian continuous change is key to maintaining its top position in security and defence which it has built up over the last few decades and to keeping up with global development. The world economy is dramatically changing and there is a strong need for adaptation for any globally operating entity.
Markets like Europe, where Cassidian maintains long standing business relationships, are changing. Globally the demand for security technology is growing. Infrastructure or national borders need to be protected from damage and intrusion. In order to successfully address issues relating to both the more saturated and the growing and emerging markets, new ways of thinking and a new procedure had to be determined and implemented.
Additionally, in those markets, in which Cassidian has been active for longer, business routines have changed. “Global competition is growing. And the time to market has been shrinking dramatically over the past few years” explains Kathrin Eckardt. “The solutions are less individualised products which are developed quicker and can often be bought more cheaply. Another factor is competition. Today, more and more offers can be leveraged from around the world where previously there were only two or, at the most, three supply options.”
Consequently, the traditional way of doing business had to be altered and adapted. New business processes had to be implemented. With respect to the psychological challenge regarding change, Cassidian developed a concept carving out the main pillars of a potentially successful change process. The key drivers of sustainable change and strategic organisational development within Cassidian’s organisation are on the one hand simpler and leaner internal processes supporting a strategic product portfolio and offering. On the other hand it requires a culture built upon trust and empowerment.
Supporting a sustainable change
The engagement and support of all employees is key to providing the necessary changes and as such an engagement initiative is running within Cassidian. The results are continuously evaluated and followed-up per organisational unit. A Cassidian Transformation Programme and related change management support have been implemented. It was clear, that these processes could only be successfully installed when everyone affected got involved and could develop an understanding for the urgency as well as the benefits of the changes planned.
Change management needs to be an integral part of operational and functional management responsibility and leadership. In supporting the management and in responding to these key drivers for continuous change, a comprehensive and professional change management approach and support is indispensable.
Leadership can not be delegated
Cassidian aims to achieve clarified, smooth interfaces and exemplary leadership behaviours as a contribution to an overall streamlined Cassidian organisation. Functional change agents back improvement initiatives and projects driving competitiveness to successfully implement on cost and time savings as well as quality gains. The ability to respond to future changes and manage these more effectively and efficiently was another goal set.
The comprehensive change management programme at Cassidian is built upon the following corner stones:
Management responsibility supported by a strong Change Agent Network per country and function
Central HR role providing change methods and tools, competence development, training and coaching as well as a roadmap with a master plan
HR Business Partners within the functions providing support to respective roadmaps and resources
The programme started in early 2012 and is well underway. The changes are being rolled out throughout the organisation and changes apply. As the sustainability of a change can only be evaluated after its implementation the High Flyer will look for an opportunity to follow up on the progress Cassidian will make in the year to come.
When it comes to virtual and augmented realities, the focus is often on online gaming. At EADS, when we think of mixed virtual and augmented realities, we think MiRA. It is a collaborative project between EADS Innovation Works and Airbus with a production-driven methodology.
MiRA - Mixed-Reality Application
The MiRA project reached an important milestone when it entered into production. MiRA stands for Mixed Reality Application and is often associated with the more commonly known terms virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR). A virtual reality application allows a person to enter a virtual environment and interact with it. Today’s VR applications are used in a number of areas such as film, art, games, manufacturing and maintenance. Augmented reality applications capture physical environments and enhance these images with digital information such as sound, video, graphics or GPS data. MiRA is somewhere in between VR and AR — mixed reality.
Paper sketches are a thing of the past - today's aircraft are entirely designed in the digital world.. For example, a 3D geometric data model represents the aircraft in the “digital mock-up”. This is the master for the aircraft’s production process. MiRA is a smart and easy-to-use tool that integrates the digital mock-up into the production environment by providing the people who directly work in the aircraft with access to the 3D model. The MiRA device is a cross between a tablet PC and a specially developed sensor pack with software. The sensor/software pack detects the operator’s movements and streams and captures video from the real environment.
“MiRA links a real object with its digital genome, transforming reality into an interactive world in which information about the object can be directly accessed,” summarises Nicolas Chevassus, Head of Industrial Processes at EADS Innovation Works. This project is the first time that augmented reality has been applied to aircraft manufacturing in a robust and reliable manner. This innovative tool, incorporating the virtual 3D design with the physical reality of a tablet PC, is now being used to improve bracket inspections on the A380 and A350 XWB. Brackets are the numerous secondary structures that hold system components such as hydraulic pipes and wire bundles in place.
Inspection time for the 60,000 to 80,000 brackets in the A380 fuselage has dropped from three weeks to just three days.
MiRA allows the user to access the 3D model of the aircraft from any perspective, navigating from their chosen angle using a geo-location device connected to the plane, and provides additional system information to facilitate production work. “This makes the information much easier to digest and the steps for bracket inspection can be completed much faster, increasing transparency and speeding up quality acceptance,” explains Frank Feest, MiRA project leader at Airbus. Inspired by applications for smartphones on the consumer market, MiRA’s results speak for themselves: inspection time for the 60,000 to 80,000 brackets in the A380 fuselage has dropped from three weeks to just three days. User feedback is also incorporated into the digital aircraft mock-up and can be accessed by the engineering teams. With MiRA, checking operations are not only accomplished more rapidly and conveniently than before, engineers can also see a complete, precise view of any bracket defect or design discrepancy. This is a great tool for solving issues rapidly and avoiding unnecessary additional work.
The team developing MiRA brings together various professionals from areas such as production, manufacturing engineering, IT, data management and research. “With Innovation Works, we created a ‘plateau’ in Suresnes (Paris) in 2011; we concentrated on adapting the application to our operational needs. The truth is that we operate as a single team,” says Frank. “Without this kind of focus, we wouldn’t have been able to mature develop the technology so quickly and have it ready for the launch of the A350,” adds Nicolas. With around 40 devices already being used across Airbus plants and plans to extend this to 75 in the upcoming months, Frank now wants to expand the use of the tool in the medium term. “Until now, we had never used 3D technology so extensively in such complex production areas - only in engineering. Now we want to go from inspecting brackets to installing them, and later the tool could also be used for aircraft maintenance,” Frank indicates. Astrium is also interested in MiRA’s potential for satellite integration and Eurocopter is looking into it for customer support. “In future versions we plan to replace the tablet with augmented reality glasses allowing users to operate hands free,” adds Nicolas.
In early 2011, Airbus decided to fast-track MiRA’s development to ensure its availability in time for A350 XWB series production at the end of 2011. Technology development was completed and a production supply chain put in place. MiRA’s quick development and proven efficiency has earned this project the top honour at the ‘Airbus Excellence Awards’, which recognised a total of 25 teams last November.
Lean management seems like a paradigm from a past decade. Lean processes can, however, boost careers and help pave the way to new and interesting job assignments. As was the case for Antonio Castillo-Leon who experienced for himself that EADS had a ‘lean’ change for his career path in stock.
When human resources are used in a lean and efficient manner, transitions across borders and functions can work seamlessly. Candidates looking for new challenges and a broader perspective can find a whole world of opportunities within a single Group.
A good example of this is Antonio Castillo-Leon, who had little trouble making the transition from his former assignment as a Commodity Manager at Astrium in Portsmouth, UK to his current job as an Avionics Engineer at Eurocopter in Ottobrunn, Germany. He changed function, country and division all in one move - quite a leap. Antonio, however, found that the common processes that are used and implemented throughout EADS’ four divisions were a big driver in helping him transition from one assignment to the next. The High Flyer talked to Antonio to find out more about his motivation, goals and the benefits he discovered for his own career.
AERONAUTICS FASCINATION FILLED WITH LIFE
Having finished his studies of Telecommunication Engineering in Madrid, Spain, Antonio discovered EADS and the planes, satellites, rockets and helicopters that EADS manufactures. Not many companies offer such big and complex product ranges, so working for EADS was like a dream come true for him.
When Antonio joined the EADS entry and development programme, “PROGRESS”, he was encouraged to change countries and/or divisions or functions, as well as perspectives, in order to progress his career. PROGRESS is a 24-month entry and development programme at EADS, offering a fast track to advance new talents’ careers. It includes off-the-job programmes and cross-divisional projects.
During his development project, Antonio worked with eleven other team members from different divisions and countries to organise a ‘LEAN Day’ at EADS. The aim was to highlight the ‘power of lean’ and showcase ways of using lean processes, by highlighting all existing lean initiatives and best practices within EADS outside of manufacturing.
“First of all, planning and implementing a ‘lean day’ was a good opportunity to discover lean processes for me, as previously I knew very little about them. Once I started the project, I began to see how interesting the ‘lean’ philosophy is. I then realised that it could be a very good set of tools to improve the current processes in our teams and organisation,” Antonio explains.
“For me, the transition was eased by the lean organisational approach I found at EADS, which is quite effective.”
Antonio Castillo-Leon, Avionics Engineer, Eurocopter
Working on the project really helped Antonio to think and move across the four EADS divisions (Astrium, Airbus, Cassidian and Eurocopter), making it much easier for him to rotate through different fields of work than would have been the case with four completely different companies. Also, the cross-cultural approach used and promoted at EADS has helped to foster a climate of ‘multiple ideas, multiple options’ that promotes innovation.
LANGUAGE SKILLS PROVIDE CAREER BOOST
“Working at a big, international company means that different people from diverse backgrounds do their jobs together. You need to have a clear understanding of the other team members and need to be clearly understood by them in order to be able to perform well in your job.
This is why communication is so important”
Avionics Engineer at Eurocopter
The biggest challenge usually facing any candidate moving to a new country for work – learning a new language – was not much of a challenge for Antonio. As English is the company’s working language whenever cross-national teams get together, a common ground is already established. Nonetheless, knowledge of other languages is definitely a plus, as Antonio quickly found out. It helps colleagues to communicate more efficiently and more precisely – both in business and private life.
THE MOST IMPORTANT SKILLS IN THE WORKING WORLD
Contrary to what most people think, the most important skills for Antonio have been teamwork, communication, presentation and negotiation abilities. In this mix, technical knowledge is simply taken for granted
As each team brings together a wide mix of nationalities and mentalities, the teams tend to come up with even more innovative ideas. “This is clearly beneficial not only for the teams, but also for the processes,” says Antonio. For him, the option of changing to a new role also meant the opportunity to discover ‘a new Antonio’ with a different way of thinking and the potential to challenge how he went about business before.
At Eurocopter, Antonio’s main focus is now on helicopters. “You need to understand them very well in order to fulfil or even surpass customers’ expectations. As Eurocopter is a market leader in the segment, these expectations are always quite high.”