Helix, the UK-based manufacturer renowned for producing the world's most power-dense electric motors and inverters, has successfully completed a sustained demonstration of its Direct Drive Scalable Aerospace Electric Propulsion technology project, known internally as XBS. After refinement as a commercial product, this motor system would be capable of driving a large scale propeller for aircraft and other applications.
This remarkable achievement was realised through a collaboration with the Midlands Aerospace Alliance (MAA) and the Aerospace Unlocking Potential (Aerospace UP) project in partnership with the University of Nottingham.
Driven by the recognition of a pressing aerospace need for a direct-drive motor, Helix, fuelled by funding from MAA and Aerospace UP, embarked on the ambitious XBS project within its X-Division. The company's innovative Scalable Core Technology (SCT) is offered in three distinct product levels: Stock, Configured, and Custom. The X-Division takes Helix's unique capabilities a step further by pioneering groundbreaking solutions that push the boundaries of performance.
It's good to see British companies like Helix and Equipmake delivering advances in this area – especially in partnership with local universities and the student engineers of tomorrow.
Under the guidance of Chief Engineer Derek Jordanou-Bailey, the XBS project took an existing SCT motor configuration and adapted it to accommodate a 38mm through-shaft. This through-shaft architecture grants substantial versatility and optimization possibilities for a wide range of aerospace applications. For example, when mounted to a piston engine, the motor can augment engine power in a parallel hybrid arrangement. Alternatively, it can drive a propeller from one end via a gearbox, while the other end serves as an auxiliary drive to generators, pumps, and other ancillary components.
The integration of a mechanical cooling pump and advanced sealing technology further bolstered the XBS demonstrator's capabilities. The integrated mechanical cooling pump eliminates the need for a separate motor, cables, brackets, and other components associated with an external cooling pump. Meanwhile, X-Division's employment of advanced sealing technology ensures the retention of Helix's patented rotor cooling in the design.
Chief Engineer Derek Jordanou-Bailey noted, “With our seal technology, the demonstrator ran up to 15,000rpm, producing high power from a relatively compact package diameter. We could easily adapt it to drive a gearbox, gearing down to propeller speed. We ran it at 310kW continuously, with a peak of 380kW – geared to drive a shaft at 2,500rpm. This equates to substantial torque, making it suitable for driving a large-diameter propeller while offering significant mass savings compared to a larger direct drive motor of similar power.”
Following a rigorous testing program, the Direct Drive Scalable Aerospace Electric Propulsion Demonstrator has proven its reliability and exceptional performance. In comparison to a piston aeroengine or turbine delivering power within a similar range, the XBS stands out as an order of magnitude lighter, considerably smaller, and virtually maintenance-free.
As a company, Helix is a pioneering engineering and manufacturing company specializing in the production of the world's most power-dense motors and complementary inverters. Their cutting-edge technology serves the demanding needs of aerospace, automotive, industrial, marine, and racing applications. Helix is renowned for its unique Scalable Core Technology and Flexible Manufacturing Facility, ensuring straightforward access to the most powerful, compact, and efficient electric powertrains on the market.
Scalable Core Technology is delivered through three strategic product levels, and the legacy of electric innovation initiated by Integral Powertrain's founders 15 years ago continues with X-Division, an advanced technology development group.
It's easy to see why there are so many companies pouring billions into the possibility of hydrogen powered aircraft in the future – especially with the world's richest petroleum economies wanting on-going revenue for their natural resources, but you have to hope that there's a possible future where no fossil fuels are involved.
Launched as a new corporate brand in 2022, Helix represents a significant transformation from a consultant to a full-service supplier of premium electric powertrains. Helix is steadfastly investing and expanding as a technology-driven global company, actively targeting new markets and sectors.