Airbus wants you to think helicopters are cool, so it’s going to make them way faster

Sky taxi.
Sky taxi.
Image: Courtesy Airbus
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Helicopters have a lot going for them. They’re nimble, just what you need to shuttle luxury hotel guests to their cliffside suites, to ferry oil workers to offshore rigs, and, critically, to rescue hikers or skiers after an avalanche.

But are they fast enough? Airbus has conceptualized a new helicopter that would cruise at more than 400 kilometers per hour (250 mph), from current top speeds of about 260 kilometers per hour. That saved time could mean the difference between life and death, or catching the sunset on the beach.

The model, called the Rapid and Cost-Effective Rotorcraft, or Racer, has design elements more common on airplanes than choppers: two wings. Each one of these “box wings” has a propeller that provides additional thrust, while the wings add lift. It still has a rotor on top, like a traditional helicopter. To conserve fuel, the helicopter would also allow pilots to start and stop one of the two Rolls Royce engines mid-flight.

A faster helicopter could make travel by chopper fashionable again. Helicopter demand plunged in the wake of the 2014 oil bust and prices for these rotorcraft plummeted. Deliveries of new commercial helicopters fell 32% from 2013 to 1,594 last year, according to consulting firm Alixpartners. Yoga classes are now being held on vacant helipads in Sao Paulo, Brazil, where high-flying executives once took off to avoid the city’s notorious traffic, the Financial Times reported.

Uber-like helicopter services have sprung up, including one run by Airbus, to capitalize on the cheap choppers and the hellish commutes of mega-city residents. Airbus doesn’t expect to fly a demonstrator Racer until 2020, and expects to begin selling them by 2030.

It’s hard to imagine our transit woes getting any better before then.