Paris // A high-speed helicopter powered by a horizontal rotor and forward-facing propellers yesterday headlined the first day of the Paris Air Show at Le Bourget, where visions of the future of aviation were on display on the ground and in the skies.
Eurocopter's X3 "hybrid helicopter" has a top speed of 333kph and made its first flying display at the air show, with morning showers clearing in time for the afternoon flying schedule.
From solar-powered aircraft to the latest update of the 40-year old Boeing 747, aircraft that are hoped to shape the future stood side by side at the air show, the top event of the year for the aerospace industry and a highlight for plane spotters.
The cachet of the world's largest and oldest air show was burnished as Nicolas Sarkozy, the French president, helped to open the event. Vladimir Putin, the Russian prime minister, is also scheduled to attend today.
The X3, pronounced "X Cubed" and named as a subtle jab at the X2 high-speed helicopter from Sikorsky, is driven by a traditional rotor above the helicopter, in addition to two propellers installed on short fixed wings.
The combination "delivers excellent vertical takeoff and landing capabilities of a helicopter, along with aircraft-type fast cruise speeds and manoeuvrability", said Lutz Bertling, the president and chief executive of Eurocopter.
Eurocopter envisions commercial opportunities for the aircraft including long-range search and rescue, coastguard duties, border patrol, VIP shuttles, special forces missions and troop transport.
"We are convinced there is a market for such a helicopter," said Dominique Maudet, the head of global business and services at EADS, the parent company of Eurocopter.
Also scheduled to make its flying debut at the show, pending sunny skies, was the Solar Impulse, whose two-man piloting team plans to fly around the world without using a drop of jet fuel.
The aircraft has been built using extremely lightweight materials and has 12,000 solar cells built into its 70-metre wingspan.
The attention to large wings and lightweight materials led the team to proclaim its aircraft is wider than a long-haul Airbus jet, with the weight of a saloon car (1,600kg) and the power output of a scooter engine (40hp).
The trend towards flying unmanned planes was also on display at the air show as Dassault Aviation of France showed off a prototype of its future combat jet, the nEUROn experimental Unmanned Combat Air Vehicle, which is scheduled to make its first test flight next year.
Boeing is displaying an unprecedented number of its aircraft, with the 787 Dreamliner and the passenger and freighter versions of the 747-8 making their first appearances at the air show.