From the ground up, the HX50 has been conceived as a genuinely best of breed personal helicopter, crafted upon field-proven engineering, state-of-the-art manufacturing and iconic British design. Credit: Hill helicopter.

In every industry, an innovator seems to emerge who changes the playing field with a revolutionary idea.

One of these men just might be UK-based Hill Helicopters’ founder Jason Hill.

Hill, an aeronautics PhD and pilot who previously worked on helicopter programs at GKN Westland (now Leonardo), is aiming at nothing less than “fixing the ills of a broken industry.”

“The products we’re flying around today were out of date in the 1980s; they’re decades out of date,” Hill told Elan Head of Vertical magazine in an exclusive interview.

“We need a very large injection of innovation to bring general aviation back to life. We need modern technology, we need more connected aircraft, we need higher performance aircraft, we need better crashworthiness, we need to improve the desirability.”

Hill Helicopters says its GT50 engine employs state-of-art component and gas-path design to deliver “unmatched efficiencies for an entry-level turbine.” Credit: Hill Helicopters .

Just months ago, UK-based Hill Helicopters emerged from stealth, promising to revolutionize the light helicopter industry with its concept for a sleek, five-seat turbine helicopter model called the HX50, Vertical magazine reported.

The company hopes to bring the HX50 to market as early as 2023 at a price point of just £495,000 (US$665,000) — wildly ambitious targets for any certified helicopter program, as Hill is quick to acknowledge.

“For a new, innovative product to inject the kind of step change in technology that the [helicopter] industry needs, if you were to try and do it the certified route, you’d need huge amounts of money; you’d need to be pre-production for a decade. And it’s just not a viable business model,” Hill told Vertical magazine.

So instead of launching the HX50 as a certified aircraft, Hill Helicopters plans to debut it as an experimental category, amateur-built model, eliminating many of the regulatory layers associated with certification.

HX50 sales and experience will then be used to support a full certification process, resulting in an otherwise identical (but more expensive) commercial model, the HC50.

According to Hill, pursuing the more streamlined amateur-built framework for initial type approval “allows us to take more of the responsibility ourselves, meet all the same regulations, but get the product to market much, much faster than would have been possible with a traditional certification route,” Vertical magazine reported.

“And then once the product is in the market, it becomes very difficult for a certification body to argue that ‘Oh, it’s a terrible idea, it’s very dangerous, it’s too risky,’ if we’ve got 1,000 or 2,000 of them out there already with an exemplary safety record.”

That might sound wildly ambitious as well, given that amateur-built helicopters — which require the owner/operator to build at least 51% of the aircraft — have always represented a small and accident-prone niche of the market.

But Hill, an aeronautics PhD and pilot who previously worked on helicopter programs at GKN Westland (now Leonardo), is aiming at nothing less than “fixing the ills of a broken industry.”

“The products we’re flying around today were out of date in the 1980s; they’re decades out of date,” he said.

“We need a very large injection of innovation to bring general aviation back to life. We need modern technology, we need more connected aircraft, we need higher performance aircraft, we need better crashworthiness, we need to improve the desirability.”

That’s what Hill believes he can offer with the HX50, which his company is designing from the wheels up, including its avionics suite and GT50 turbine engine, Vertical magazine reported.

The clean, uncluttered cockpit delivers automotive levels of simplicity of operation, class leading pilot comfort and convenience, genuinely raising the VFR flying experience. Credit: Hill helicopters.

The latter is a two-spool turboshaft engine, comprising a single stage centrifugal compressor with a pressure ratio of 8.0:1 at 49,000 rpm, driven by a two-stage axial turbine, specifically optimized for high efficiency, low fuel consumption and long-life.

According to the website, the GT50 is designed and developed by a team of industry veterans, using methods, tools, and techniques pioneered over decades — in other words, a completely in-house engine.

By developing the GT50 in parallel with the helicopter, Hill says, they were better able to define exactly what attributes were required for the powerplant in order to deliver the payload, performance and engine control characteristics essential to the HX50, rather than having to accept a poorly suited and expensive old technology engine.

Unlike most experimental aircraft, the HX50 won’t be available as a kit for homebuilding. Instead, customers will be required to assemble their aircraft in a “carefully choreographed” two-week factory course alongside licensed engineers, Vertical magazine reported.

Then, rather than sending them off to operate in isolation, the company plans to stay connected with the owner community through a cloud-based operating platform that will include flight data monitoring services, “so we’ll be able to provide a degree of support and oversight and monitoring of each of the aircraft we sell,” Hill said.

The HX50’s groundbreaking cabin delivers a complete rethink of helicopter flight for the pilot and those who prefer to be flown. Credit: Hill helicopters.

Hill also said the UK’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) has been “incredibly supportive” of the concept. While Brexit has caused angst in some corners of the aerospace industry, Hill is optimistic that it will prove to be an advantage in bringing the HX50 to market.

“Brexit has been a real enabler because we’ve now got new powers coming home, so the UK will be able to certify its own aircraft again,” rather than relying on the much larger and slower moving EASA (European Union Aviation Safety Agency).

Without question, it is a mountain yet to be climbed — Hill must win over the large potential customer base, who see today’s light helicopters as too difficult to fly, too risky, or simply too ugly to be desirable.

“What we’re offering to these people isn’t just a revolutionary helicopter — it’s an ability to be part of the movement to relaunch GA,” he said. “These people are all very, very passionate about aviation. They love helicopters, they love the helicopter lifestyle, they just know it can be more.”