HAI Convention News

Van Horn Touts Bell 206 Composite Blade program at Heli-Expo 2014

 - February 27, 2014, 11:00 AM

Composite rotor blade manufacturer Van Horn Aviation (VHA; Booth No. 7129) of Tempe, Ariz. is showcasing the company’s Bell 206 main rotor blade development project. This program is aimed at creating a replacement for the metal blades in legacy 206 models, starting with the 206B3 JetRanger. The JetRanger that will serve as the program’s test bed is on display at the company’s booth. “Our goal is to have the 206B3 blade certified by the end of this year,” VHA president James Van Horn told AIN.

VHA had been developing the 206 blade as a follow-on product to a replacement blade for the MD Helicopters MD500E, but shifted priorities after MD Helicopters reclaimed its 500E on loan to VHA late last year.

“Lynn [Tilton, MD Helicopters chairman and CEO] felt they had a better use for the aircraft,” Van Horn said. “We’ve gone our separate ways and there will be no future collaboration with MD Helicopters.”

Van Horn said the 206 program has “capitalized on the work done on the 500. We feel this blade will be certifiable in its first incarnation, based on data, not on hope.” The 206 blade will use the same airfoil as VHA developed for the MD500.

Whereas the 206’s metal blades have a 5,000-hour useful life, VHA’s composite replacements will last twice as long, Van Horn said. Price hasn’t been determined “but the goal is a 40-percent reduction in lifecycle costs. Our focus is on making reasonably priced blades,” said Van Horn. “We can’t do it as efficiently or elegantly as the OEMs. We’re accepting a reduced level of sophistication to make it affordable and structurally very sound and robust.”

VHA still plans to complete development of MD500 replacement rotor blades, Van Horn said, and will acquire an MD500 this summer for that purpose. According to Van Horn, VHA initially chose the MD500 as the launch platform for its composite rotor blades “because it’s the greatest challenge. Any other platform becomes easier,” he said. “The 500 is a unique helicopter. There isn’t another in its weight class that’s not hydraulically boosted,” and the control system “was tuned specifically to accommodate these metallic, symmetric metal blades.” A laminar flow composite blade that could be flown without such boosting would simplify adaptation to a hydraulic system, according to Van Horn. Plans call for certification of the composite blade for the MD500E in the second quarter of 2015, with a target price of $25,000 for each of the helicopter’s five blades.