Eurodrone engine contenders tout goods as decision approaches

ROME – As Airbus awaits approval for its new European drone, an Italian company with US capital and a French company are eager to find out who has been chosen to supply the engine.

The Italian Avio Aero and the French Safran Helicopter Engines await the last big decision to be made regarding the Eurodrone and fiercely underline why they are the best choice.

The propulsion decision will be made just after the program’s four partner countries, Italy, France, Germany and Spain, sign the Airbus-led project over the next two months, a responsible for Airbus.

With Spain reportedly on the verge of adding the final required signature, the twin-engine 98-foot-wingspan MALE drone is getting closer to reality after months of delay.

Which leaves Avio Aero, which is owned by GE, and Safran Helicopter Engines touting their products, with the French company strongly highlighting the all-European pedigree of its proposed Ardiden STP engine.

“With the Ardiden 3TP, we have assembled a 100% European team, we are committed to delivering a 100% European engine with high levels of design maturity and competitive operating and maintenance costs,” said Florent Chauvancy , General Manager of OEM Sales for Safran Helicopter Engines.

The company has partnered with European companies ITP Aero, Piaggio Aerospace and ZF Aviation Technology to develop the Ardiden 3TP from its EASA certified Safran Ardiden 3 engine core.

But the focus on who is the more European of rivals has upset Italian company Avio Aero, which was bought by GE in 2013.

“The French press criticized us, but our product was developed in Europe with European technology and there is no American control on exports,” said Paolo Salvetti, commercial director of military turboprop engines.

Avio Aero offers a variant of its Catalyst engine in development for the Beechcraft Denali aircraft. The Catalyst flew on a King Air test stand in September and a Beechcraft a week ago after 2,700 hours of ground testing. “If we win, we would just have to make a few changes to integrate it – we are the most mature product,” Salvetti said.

“I expect Airbus to make its decision based on price, risk and technology,” he said.

In a statement to Defense News, Safran Helicopter Engines described the Ardiden 3, on which its drone offering will be based, as a “mature program”, noting that two EASA certified models, the Ardiden 3C and 3G have completed more than 10,000 flight hours. ground tests and 2,500 flight hours, while the Russian Ka-62 helicopter, which uses 3G, is now certified.

Salvetti of Avio Aero said that an engine developed from an aircraft propulsion design, like the Catalyst, rather than a helicopter design, might be better suited to the high altitudes a MALE drone flies at.

It was “unfounded,” replied Safran Helicopter Engines.

“Compared to the helicopter variants, the Ardiden 3TP incorporates technologies that will ensure a high level of performance at medium and high altitude, up to 45,000 feet,” the company said.

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