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An upstart in the helicopter business, Marenco Swisshelicopter, claim their SKYe SH09 is:

“the first single-engine helicopter designed with a clean sheet of paper” since 1976.

If you compare this market with the automotive market, it’s like we’re competing with cars from 1976 whose only upgrades have been airbags and a GPS scrolling map. The market has not seen real innovation in years.

What 1976-design are they referencing and how accurate is their claim?

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Most modern helicopters use two engines for added safety. This reduces the field of competing designs. Also, a good engineer will always leave proven details unchanged and focus on improving flawed designs. So it is hard to prove that a new design from an established helicopter company will truly be a clean-sheet design.

The possible new designs from 1976 could be:

  • Aerospatiale AS-350 Écureuil: First flight 1974, introduced 1975. Note that the AS-355 is a two-turbine variant of the single-turbine AS-350.
  • Robinson R-22: First flight 1975, introduced 1979. It has a single reciprocating engine and was indeed a clean-sheet design by Frank Robinson who started the company in 1973. He had worked previously at Bell Helicopter and Hughes Helicopters.
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    $\begingroup$ It may be that some ultralight helicopters like the Mosquito are also "clean sheet" designs as well, but they don't make that claim on their site. $\endgroup$ – Ron Beyer Oct 25 '16 at 14:01
  • $\begingroup$ @RonBeyer: Excellent remark! I did not think of them first, but their category was only defined in the Eighties, so all of them are younger than the R-22 and must be clean-sheet designs, at least in their first iteration. Probably Swisshelicopter made the same mistake. $\endgroup$ – Peter Kämpf Oct 25 '16 at 14:23
  • $\begingroup$ thanks for your answer! could you elaborate a bit on the accuracy of the claim? you say good engineers (incl. those at existing companies) "leave proven details unchanged and focus on improving flawed designs". But Marenco's claim is exactly in improving the design, not the details. Specifically: "carbon fibre cockpit, glass doors, removable seating, rear clamshell doors and a large load capacity", has this really not been done before in this market segment? (I guess they're betting on one engine being save enough when well maintained and far cheaper...?) $\endgroup$ – mb21 Oct 25 '16 at 14:49
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    $\begingroup$ @mb21: I don't know whether a carbon fiber cockpit is an improvement - in a crash it will splinter and cause bad cuts where metal would only bend and absorb the energy. And other helicopters had transparent doors before. The load capacity comes with the size of the helicopter - no surprise here, too. Yes, by starting from scratch you avoid the trap of "good enough", but I do not see how the SH09 is more than another iteration of a proven concept. The claim of "first clean-sheet design since 1976" is surprising and good marketing, but need not signal a better product. $\endgroup$ – Peter Kämpf Oct 25 '16 at 15:27
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    $\begingroup$ One might even argue that clean sheet design would make for an inferior product. Mature designs have spent some number of years working out the kinks. A new design is an unknown. $\endgroup$ – TomMcW Oct 25 '16 at 18:02

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