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Eurosatory 2010: Industry celebrates first helicopter biofuel flight

17th June 2010 - 13:00 by Tony Skinner in Paris

The first flight of a helicopter using a bio-kerosene blend has marked the dawn of a new era for rotorcraft aviation, according to industry officials.

On 16 June a Royal Netherlands Air Force (RNLAF) Boeing AH-64D Apache attack helicopter carried out a 20 minute flight test at Gilze-Rijen Airbase using a blend of sustainable bio-kerosene and standard aviation jet fuel.

Speaking to at the Eurosatory exhibition in Paris, a Boeing spokesman said the milestone, which was made possible by a team that included the RNLAF, Boeing, Honeywell, and engine manufacturer GE Aviation, was a key part of the company’s efforts to develop sustainable aviation fuel solutions.

‘We are witnessing the dawn of a new era for rotorcraft. Boeing is proud to have the Apache at the forefront,’ the spokesman said.

Under the ‘Green Jet Fuel’ process developed by Honeywell subsidiary UOP, natural oils from algae and used cooking oil were converted into a Bio-Synthetic Paraffinic Kerosene (Bio-SPK), which was blended in a 50% mixture with traditional jet fuel.

The blend was then used to power one of the Apache's engines for a series of test manoeuvres. No modifications were made to the engine or airframe for the flight and the blend met or exceeded the JP-8 fuel specifications for the Apache.

The RNLAF biofuel flight test programme will encompass seven flights, in an attempt to highlight the technical feasibility of flying rotorcraft using renewable fuels.

In a statement, Boeing Northern Europe president Jan Närlinge said it was hoped that the programme would also help to stimulate market development for aviation biofuel within the Netherlands to help improve the environmental performance of commercial and military aviation.

The Honeywell Green Jet Fuel process was developed under a contract awarded in 2007 by the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency to produce an aviation biofuel that can be blended with petroleum-based fuel.

The blend has previously been used in fixed-wing flights with the US Air Force and Navy as part of a joint programme for alternative fuels testing and certification under the US Defense Energy Support Center as well as for commercial biofuel demonstration flights, including a KLM Royal Dutch Airlines demonstration flight in November 2009.

Meanwhile, EADS announced that it was considering the creation of an aviation biofuel production facility in Brazil.

Under a cooperative agreement signed at the ILA Berlin Air Show, EADS, Eurocopter and BioCombustibles del Chubut will perform feasibility studies using microalgae farming to produce aviation-grade biofuel. The feasibility of helicopter flight tests with the biofuel is also currently being assessed.

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