On December 6 and 7, 2023, the HX50 took center stage at the 3rd GMDE Global Meetup and Discover Event.
Justifiably proud of the company's achievement, Jason outlined some of the key design drivers that led the project.
9 Feb 2024
Engineering and building a new helicopter from the ground up, while integrating these efforts with our business strategy, represents an enormous undertaking. However, our vertical integration strategy is paying off.
We have now reached the milestone of 1,230 aircraft sold to date: 877 HX50s and 353 HC50s. Consequently, a massive factory is required to build the helicopters. We have adopted a dual-site approach, planning to manufacture in one location and fly from another. We will expand the current rented space for development and production and have secured a new location for flight operations at Halfpenny Green Airport.
In other exciting news, the HC50 (the commercial version of the HX50), formerly only available to existing HX50 customers, has been released for sale to the general public for the first time.
One very important goal was to elevate General Aviation to the design quality and standards we've come to expect in the automotive industry and in every other aspect of our lives. The audience’s reaction made it clear that this objective has been more than achieved!
From details like glazing that is completely flush with the fuselage, to car-like swivelling door handles, to the way the interior lights up as the central locking is released, and the Hill badge at the nose, everything looks and feels as if you're inside a premium car. It's no coincidence that the seats are as wide as those in a Range Rover!
Jason Hill emphasised, 'The whole design objective is to make people want to go flying. We’ve got to make people want to learn to fly.'
Another key aspect of our design philosophy includes the retractable undercarriage, cleverly integrated with a cowling in the main rotor pylon to streamline airflow and reduce drag. This cowling is not merely aesthetic; it features an aerofoil profile essential for enhancing the HX50's forward flight performance. The elegant “doughnut” on the top was designed to cover the rotor system and get the drag down.
There is a new method of attaching the blades to the “doughnut”, and the rotor blades are also designed to improve forward flight speed and keep the noise down. The HX50’s horizontal stabiliser ensures the fuselage remains level, enhancing stability and control. Additionally, the ducted fan offers a quieter, safer alternative to traditional designs.
“We listened, and we were ready to deliver exactly what people wanted.” – Jason Hill
The live demonstration highlighted the superiority of a three-bladed rotor system over a two-bladed one, showcasing improved handling in high-wind conditions despite its more complex production requirements. As Jason observed, “the main rotor hub is the soul of the helicopter and what makes it fly like ‘a proper helicopter”.
Early on in development, customer demand led to a second design incorporating skids, intended for difficult landing scenarios, and perfect for tour operators who are doing a lot of takeoffs and landings or live in cold climates. As this is a Hill design even the skids look improbably elegant!
HX50 has been beautifully sculpted by Henry Morshead, Chief Designer. With comparisons to a shark or a dolphin or even a tadpole, Jason had the last word on the aircraft’s shape, “it’s a teardrop that pushes through the air gently and then allows the air to collect smoothly behind it as it passes through the least disturbance you can create in the air.”
It was obvious that entering the helicopter is a joy, with top quality leather upholstery, doors all properly trimmed with door cards, well fitting carpets and branded tread plates.
“The whole point of the interior was to create an environment that was a first class flight for everyone” – Jason Hill
The flying environment of the HX50 is superb, unlike any other designed for VFR flying. The cyclic can be moved out of the way when you get into the helicopter and then adjusted to the position that suits your height and build. Even with two 15.6 screens in front of you, you have an amazing down angle.
This is one example of where the reality is even better than the renders. The original design for stowing the headsets has been improved by providing a hook that’s quicker to get at when operating the helicopter, a direct result of customer feedback.
Jason was able to climb right into the cockpit and demonstrate how easy the HX50 is going to be to fly – although it looks very modern, it is in fact a completely conventional flight control system. He revealed the streamlined startup procedure and the way it leads to the Digital Cockpit lighting up, and the ease with which flight planning can be synched into operation of the helicopter.
Customer feedback has led to changes in the original Digital Cockpit design, with improvements in the flight instruments and gauges which are going to make flying the HX50 a joy for new pilots and also for instructors.
Integrated pilot interface (IPI) replaces the traditional arrangement in helicopters which required a lot of radios, transponder panels, audio panels etc, and the altimeter has been re-engineered. The way this is all operated was explored at length by Jason, helped by Mischa and Ruben, all wearing their headsets.
“At a glance, everything is easy to find”. – Jason Hill
A roof panel has been added to the design, the object being to make the basic flying environment as simple and clean as it can possibly be, so all the controls that you don’t normally use when you are conducting VFR flight are placed up there. All very simple, very visual, very intuitive. And there’s an advanced warning and alert system that not only tells you there is problem but explains exactly what you have to do.
It is a huge accomplishment to not just design a gas turbine engine, but to build it as well.
Crucial to the design has been making sure that parts that can cause issues in service are easy to access.
Will the engine be safe? Jason assured the audience that the GT50 is not a brand new engine, but a compendium of all the best ideas that have been in service and proven over 70 years in the aerospace and automotive industries , built by a team of experts that have many years of experience between them.
Our pioneering strategy which we are calling GVTOL (green vertical take-off and landing) represents an end to end system for a sustainable future for the helicopter industry, and a response to EVTOL. This is how we intend to demonstrate carbon neutrality going into the future, and develop helicopters not just for the existing private operator base, but also for the commercial base, and make operating helicopters profitable again.
The way to think of biofuels is as Mother Earth’s battery. New cellulose-based biofuels can use 100% of a plant to create 100% carbon neutral biofuel. Our engine will be the first engine to be certified from the ground up to run on 100% carbon neutral biofuels.
You are limited by fixed operating costs and low utilisation, so the total cost of ownership and operating the aircraft is really important.
We need a platform that delivers low and predictable costs, high performance, and high mission flexibility, so we can trade off fuel for payload (not so easy with batteries). Another avenue we are pursuing is low-cost insurance and aircraft finance through ongoing work with our partners.
Are you interested in the HX50? Book your spot in our group presentation and learn why the HX50 will be better than your current helicopter.
Mischa Gelb (aka Pilot Yellow) and Ruben Dias
Exclusive full details about the HX50 not yet available to the public
30 minutes presentation + Q&A via ZOOM
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