Eurocopter EC 175 to lock horns with AW139

 - March 13, 2007, 7:46 AM

Eurocopter and its Chinese partner Harbin Aircraft are designing a new medium twin helicopter, dubbed the EC 175, to fill the gap between the EC 155 Dauphin and the EC 225 Super Puma. They are to unveil details of the EC 175 design at the Paris Air Show in June. Nevertheless, Eurocopter (Booth No. 1833) likely will be asked lots of questions about the new medium twin here at Heli-Expo and might be persuaded to provide an update on the program.

The computer-generated image (shown here) gives a rough idea of the EC 175’s configuration. But the design likely will evolve. In fact, it has already changed significantly since the first artist rendering was released in December 2005, when the partnership agreement between Eurocopter and Harbin was signed. For example, the number of blades on the tail rotor has changed (from four to three), along with the shape of the windows and the engines’ air intakes.

Design started early last year, with Chinese engineers coming to Eurocopter’s offices in Marignane, France. Last December, Eurocopter said the program was proceeding on schedule.

The helicopter’s development schedule calls for a maiden flight in 2009 and EASA certification in 2011. Chinese certification is pegged for 2012. The program is divided on a 50-50 basis. The AVIC II subsidiary is in charge of the airframe, main rotor, tail transmission, flight controls and fuel system. Eurocopter is responsible for the main gearbox, tail rotor, avionics, hydraulics and electrical system. Integration and flight testing also fall under the European share. Early in January, BBA Aviation announced a contract with Eurocopter for BBA’s UK-based subsidiary, APPH, to design and produce the EC 175’s landing gear.

The EC 175 (or Z15, under its Chinese designation) will be certified for two-pilot IFR and single-pilot VFR operations when carrying up to 16 passengers. Early specifications also include a 140- to 150-knot cruise speed and a 200-nm range. The engine will be a version of the Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6C. The five-blade main rotor will use Eurocopter’s Spheriflex architecture.

The avionics suite should be based on that of the EC 225. The new rotorcraft will also get a health and usage monitoring system (HUMS). In addition, Eurocopter promises anticollision navigation and a high energy-absorption structure.

In Eurocopter’s range of products, the 6.7-metric-ton (14,750 pounds at mtow) EC 175 will compete head-to-head with the AgustaWestland AW139. To be seen is whether the EC 175 can catch up with the AW139. The latter’s manufacturer has sold more than 200 copies. Moreover, the EC 175 will be certified at least six years later.

Two production lines will be set up, one in Marignane and one in Harbin. Total production should reach 35 aircraft per year after three years. Eurocopter and Harbin Aircraft forecast 800 sales worldwide over the next 20 years. It is not the first cooperation between the two companies. For example, AVIC II has a 24-percent share in the EC 120.