Eurocopter launched its new EC175 helicopter four years ago at the Heli-Expo show in Houston, Texas, showing a fuselage mockup of the new helicopter. Last month, AIN editor-in-chief Randy Padfield had the opportunity to fly one of the EC175 prototypes at Eurocopter’s main facility on Marseille-Provence Airport in France. This is his report of that flight. Additional photos of the demonstration flight are in this AINonline Image Gallery.
Alain Di Bianca, chief test pilot of the Eurocopter EC175 program, and Michel Oswald, flight engineer, made it clear to me before our demonstration flight in January that the aircraft we would be flying is a prototype, in fact, the first of two EC175 prototypes. Therefore, it is not fully compliant with the production EC175s, two of which are in final assembly at Eurocopter’s Marignane, France facility. Certification of the new model in its configuration for the oil and gas market is pegged for the end of this year.
Di Bianca and Oswald explained that several components of prototype PT1 are not representative of the production aircraft, and they warned me it might suffer some failures during the flight, particularly with the autopilot. This proved prophetic.
Then Di Bianca asked me to sign a document that released Eurocopter of all liability in case of an accident. “It is standard procedure for any non-Eurocopter pilots,” he said. I signed without hesitation. The two prototypes had logged some 270 hours since the first one made its initial flight on Dec. 4, 2009. I was sure PT1, which had accrued 190 of these hours, was safe.
Earlier that day, EC175 marketing manager François de Bray told me the new model’s main markets are the oil and gas industry, search-and-rescue (SAR) and VIP transport, in that order, but the most important is oil and gas. SAR is a dual market, for stand-alone SAR operations and for oil-and-gas operators who need to provide quick-change SAR services for their customers.
A seven-metric-ton-class aircraft, the estimated 16,500-pound EC175 fills an empty niche in Eurocopter’s product line between the Dauphin series (AS365N3+ and EC155B1) and the Super Puma series (AS332L1 and EC225). Its main competitors are the 14,000-pound AgustaWestland AW139 (in production) and 17,500-pound AW189 (planned for first deliveries in 2014), as well as a new helicopter, which which Bell is expected to launch at Heli-Expo show. One could also add the larger Super Puma and Sikorsky S-92, many of which are already in the fleets of operators who constitute the EC175’s target customers.
With these markets in mind and feedback from current Dauphin and Super Puma customers, Eurocopter engineers set about designing a medium-class offshore helicopter that could also perform SAR or be purpose-built for other missions, including VIP and law enforcement. Safety, comfort, reliability and performance better than current offerings were the main goals. Eurocopter has not publicly announced prices for the EC175.