Hx50 hill helicopters

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Meet the 'disruptive' HX50 helicopter set to take flight in 2023

11 January 2022

With an impressive range, speed and pricepoint, owners are lining up for Hill Helicopters' new HX50, says Colin Goodwin...

Many happy hours can be spent playing on car company configurators. Do I want my Porsche 911 GT3 in Le Mans White, and should I go for the optional ceramic brakes? It’s an exciting game that provides a great distraction when one should be working. But forget exotic car configurators because something far more exciting exists out there in the ether: the configurator on Hill Helicopters’ website. Here you will be able to choose the numerous options available on the company’s new HX50 helicopter, from exterior paint colours to interior leather.

The HX50 is a fabulous looking machine: beautifully proportioned with sleek styling that shrieks high performance. We’re at Hill Helicopter’s Global Meetup and Discover event at the company’s base in the Midlands, UK. Sat to my left is a gentleman who is one of the 348 HX50 customers who has put down a deposit for the aircraft. To be precise, he’s customer number 108 in the queue. Those at the head of the queue are expected to receive their machines in August 2023, with Hill Helicopters expecting the first prototypes to be flying next summer. Lucky customer number 108’s current helicopter is a Robinson R44, the most common light helicopter on the market.

The cockpit

There’s a fundamental difference between the R44 and the HX50 and that’s the type of engines each uses. The Robinson uses a six-cylinder piston engine, which has a design that stretches back to before the war. It’s rugged and well proven but somewhat inefficient, noisy and not particularly powerful. The HX50, by contrast, is powered by a state-of-the-art gas turbine or jet engine. The choice of gas turbine makes the HX50 particularly well-suited to life on a superyacht because of the fuel that it uses. A piston aircraft engine burns Avgas and the availability of this specially blended petrol is very limited in remote areas or in continents such as Africa and Asia. The HX50’s gas turbine, however, uses Jet A1, which is the fuel used by all airliners and is available globally even in remote regions.

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The engine itself produces a maximum of 500bhp and that, together with aircraft’s slippery aerodynamic shape, gives a cruising speed of 140kts or 160mph. That’s extremely fast for a helicopter and to put it into context, the R44 has a cruising speed of only 109kts. Maximum range for the HX50 is an incredibly impressive 700 nautical miles, which is again phenomenal for a helicopter. Robinson also makes a jet version of its machine that’s badged as the R66. Its Rolls-Royce jet engine is substantially less powerful than the designed and built in-house engine in the HX50 and gives the R66 a cruising speed of 110kts.

The GT50 engine

Hill Helicopter’s machine has beauty and performance on its side, but also price. The HX50 without options is priced at £495,000 plus local taxes which compares with £385,000 for the Robinson R44 and £715,000 for the R66.

It is this combination of value, performance and style that has got the numerous customers in the room, and those online from America, Canada and elsewhere, so excited about the HX50. You’ll have to join the queue…