British startup Hill Helicopters is shaking up the codes and preparing for the industrialization of a new 5-seater light helicopter. But there is a long way to go…

On December 6th 2023, Hill Helicopters unveiled the first two completed airframes of its HX50 light single. The first one was fitted with skids, the other one with wheeled landing gear. Both are exceedingly desirable choppers, but as far as helicopter goes, is attractive synonymous to viable?

The HX50 is pitched at private customers and is designed to «make flying exciting again», says founder and chief executive Dr Jason Hill. «The license to fly amateur-built category conveys a lot less red tape than the conventional certification process,» notes Mischa Gelb, ambassador for Hill Helicopters. «Every country will be authorizing this aircraft in the license to fly amateur-built category because it is being built to a fully certified EASA CS-27 standard. It’s also a factory-built aircraft. The owner goes to the factory to participate in the building process in a controlled environment. We call it «the build school». This allows us to fully control quality and standard. The aircraft will need to be maintained to a fully certified standard as well,» he adds.

Simultaneously, the HX50 will have a fully certified twin brother: the more expensive HC50, available for commercial use is priced at £725,000 ($910,000). HX50 and HC50 helicopters will be identical from a physical perspective and they will be built in the same facility.

According to the manufacturer, the only thing differentiating them will be the certification process. Therefore, all the specs will be the same for both models, with a basic empty weight of 1870lbs (850kg). On one hand it’s a very ambitious goal for a 5 seat helicopters, and on the other hand it remains to be seen if all countries will accept a 850 kg helicopter in the amateur-built category!  At any rate, Hill’s project is enjoying a brilliant marketing and .com strategy! The manufacturer’s current official sales numbers show an incredible fervor for the sexy little chopper with 863 HX50s, and 344 HC50s sold in 71 countries! The company expects to reach over 2000 orders before production starts. The HX50 and the HC50 requires respectively a £30.000 and a £50.000 non-refundable deposit. «All our customers are fully aware that the deposits go directly into the helicopter’s development and production,» adds Mischa Gelb.  «This is the way the company is fully funded and has no debt or external investors. Jason Hill and his wife own 100 percent of the company. This is an incredible position to be in!»

From a technical point of view, everything will be new with the HX50 and HC50. The helicopter features a three-blade main rotor and a shrouded tail rotor. In order to control cost « end-to-end », vertical integration is key to the company’s model. 

Therefore it intends to manufacture in-house most of the aircraft, including the transmission and its internally developed 500shp (370kW) GT50 engine. The GT50 has been in development for more than ten years through Hill’s sister company—Dynamiq Engineering. By producing the engine in-house, Hill says he will be able to produce them at what he called an «unprecedented price point». Hill Helicopters estimates that the GT50 will require around 1,000 hours of bench testing prior to installation in the first prototype and Hill Helicopters hopes to fly its first prototype in 2024. Restricted to private operators, the HX50 is to be delivered from 2025. It’s an incredibly tight agenda for a new helicopter with a new gearbox, new drivetrain, new engine and new avionics. Lots of technical challenges are awaiting Hill’s technical team. Fine tuning a helicopter, making it vibration free, having the performances on specs and having it certified is always a huge task full of uncertainties!

«Agreed! The certification process for the entire aircraft including the engine will be challenging,» says Mischa Gelb. «However there are some key elements that ensure a successful program. The performance of every part of the aircraft including the engine is easy to predict with extreme accuracy with the computing programs available today. There is no development, should it work! We are confident on the performance numbers we are sharing with the public. Once we have completed testing on the prototype aircraft, we will apply directly for full certification.»

«Regulators are in a very unique position because Hill already has over 1200 orders,» adds Gelb. «This means that as they go through the certification process they’ll realize that this is a company that needs to be taken seriously as well as being given top priority. 

At first, there will be hundreds then possibly thousands of HX50 aircraft attesting to the veracity of the data. This will help push the certification program through. We are confident that we can achieve full certification and begin production of the HC50’s by the end of 2026. However, remember that this is a development program and if there is a need for delay due to safety, it will happen,» concludes Mischa Gelb wisely.