Helitech 2005: The even provided a showcase for manufacturers' newest training and avionics

 - October 18, 2006, 11:51 AM

Perhaps because it takes place only every two years, Helitech is always keenly anticipated by Europeans and they are rarely disappointed. During the huge international airshows–Farnborough, Paris and Singapore, for example–rotary folk are constantly reminded that the world revolves around airlines and jet fighters, while they operate in a niche market. But here (as at Heli-Expo, to be fair), everything is tailored to what rotary operators want to see.

Heli-Expo is a world-class event, but the majority of exhibitors are homegrown. Since American companies make up the bulk of the worldwide industry anyway, that is fair enough. But Helitech, held at Duxford, England (the airfield that houses the Imperial War Museum’s historic aircraft, as well as the U.S. Army Air Force museum–both magnificent collections), seems to attract a more international mix, as well as smaller companies for which the English Channel is a manageable hop, perhaps, but the Atlantic Ocean a step too far. It also somehow elevates smaller players (such as Enstrom and Skyquest Aviation) to the same level as the big boys (such as Bell and Sagem).

So how did this year’s event play out in deepest Cambridgeshire? The event’s inaugural conference, focusing on COMR (contractor owned, military registered), was well attended, and several delegates told AIN it was a worthwhile event. COMR is definitely the flavor of the month for civil operators looking for long-term military contracts.

Although COMR’s birthplace lies in the UK where, for two decades, a civil operator has provided logistical support to armed forces in the Falkland Islands, the highest-profile contract now is the U.S. Coast Guard’s lease of eight Agusta 109E Powers for its drug interdiction campaign between the Caribbean Sea and the Florida coast.

British Army Brigadier Nick Chaplin told the audience that, despite the number of ongoing contracts–which currently account for an impressive 15 percent of the total UK military fleet–further opportunities remain in training support, liaison, military aid and even airborne surveillance. “The lack of a small platform with useful hot-and-high performance meant that, in the more recent Gulf War, we were reduced to strapping a FLIR on a [H-3] Sea King. That is not making full use of the troop transport’s capabilities.”

The day ended with the expected news that, in spite of the success of the U.S. Coast Guard’s leasing arrangement with Agusta, the deal will end on schedule in 2008. Captain Walter Reger explained that this is the result of the Coast Guard’s realignment toward maximizing the use of its existing fleet of Jayhawks and Dolphins, rather than procuring new craft such as the A109 and AB139. The re-engined Dolphin is up to the task, he said.

The American Market

On the exhibition floor, much of the press attention focused on MD Helicopters and its new owner, Patriarch Partners. In an interview with AIN, Patriarch principal Lynn Tilton said the company had already invested $50 million in the struggling OEM “with more on the way.” She is joined at the helm (of the now U.S.-owned company) by interim CEO Robert Rene and COO Randy Kesterson. Former Bell director David Oglesbee is v-p of sales and former CEO Henk Schaeken remains with the company as “president with chief responsibility for marketing.”

Meanwhile, AgustaWestland handed over an AB139 to Tromsø-based Lufttransport, for use in a passenger service between the city of Bodø and Vœrøy, one of the Lofoten islands off northern Norway. It is due to enter service next month, replacing an S-61 operated by CHC Helikopter Service.

Lufttransport flight ops director Arne Evang told AIN that the 20-minute flight to the island is the only alternative to a four-and-a-half hour voyage by boat, through notoriously rough seas. “Our winter schedule will be one VFR round trip per day, doubled to two during the summer months.”

Thales is to work with Sikorsky on a new cockpit for the S-76D, the first delivery of which is planned for the end of 2008. It will feature large-format displays housed in a newly designed console, and is intended to improve pilot visibility and situational awareness. A full-motion level-D simulator should be available for pilot training by the time the first helicopter is ready.

Sikorsky launched the -D model at Heli-Expo last February, and the medium twin encompasses a series of engine, air vehicle, interior and avionics upgrades to improve performance, safety and reliability. Apart from the cockpit, the package will include all-composite rotor blades, a new quiet tail rotor, an icing protection system, an integrated avionics system designed to the latest FAA/EASA requirements and new Pratt & Whitney Canada PW210 engines.

The FAA has cleared Eurocopter to build AS 350B2 and B3 AStar models at its new facility in Columbus, Miss. The initial annual production run will be more than 30, with future production increases linked to sales. The first AS 350 came off the line on October 11, headed to Air Methods for completion. The facility will also manufacture parts and subassemblies for other Eurocopter products, such as the AS 355 and 365 Dauphin, and will continue to customize models such as the EC 120, EC 135, EC 145 and EC 155. Should the company win the Department of Defense contract for the U.S. Army and National Guard UH-145 light utility helicopter requirement, these machines will also be built in Columbus.

Bell featured a mockup of its 429 light twin, as part of (it said) a new marketing push for its product line outside the U.S. To reinforce what v-p Scotty Fitzgerald said was a “critical market,” Bell appointed Patriot Aviation its UK representative. “We felt we needed a company that understood police and air ambulance needs from a customer’s point of view, as well as a regulatory one.”

Bell says it currently holds orders for more than a hundred 429s. First flight is expected in February.

Kamov is in talks to open its first overseas service center in Spain. The depot will likely be established at Alicante, on the nation’s Mediterranean coast, and close to Helisureste, a major operator that employs four Ka-32s on firefighting duties throughout the Iberian peninsula. A Kamov spokeswoman told AIN that, while negotiations are progressing, a formal announcement is not expected this year.

PZL Swidnik is seeking UK CAA certification of its SW-4 light single, with EASA approval to follow. The Polish manufacturer confirmed the award of Russian Federation certification for the type during the summer, as well as a deal to purchase 10 Rolls-Royce 250-C20R light turbine engines for the program.

PZL spokesman Jan Mazur said that the company has also signed a memorandum of understanding with Rolls-Royce, to pursue the idea of using the 650-shp 250-C30 to power a further SW-4 growth variant.

Poland’s air force has ordered 30 SW-4 airframes for use as trainers and the first civil variant will be delivered next month, for use on gas pipeline patrols in eastern Russia. “If it proves its worth, a substantial follow-on order will be in the [uh] pipeline,” Mazur said.

The SW-4 is claimed to have a range of nearly 500 miles on standard fuel capacity.

Simulator Training

UK police operator Specialist Aviation Services celebrated CAA certification of its new mobile helicopter simulator.

The company’s growing training business can now take on most of the mandatory instrument flying training for its staff pilots, at a fraction of the cost of using real aircraft. Towed behind an SUV, the device can also deliver training to the dozen SAS aviation units based with police forces around the country. It can also offer other operators and pilots savings on their own instrument rating training requirement.

Flyit’s flight navigation procedural trainer (FNPT) is the first of its type in the UK and recently achieved level-2 qualification from the UK CAA. This means that most of the flying can now be done in the simulator, rather than in the air. The company’s full instrument rating course calls for a minimum of 40 hours in the air; with the new simulator, pilots need only 15 hours in the air.

For police operations, pilots need four hours of instrument flying per type each year. SAS can now carry out three of those in the simulator. In addition, the device can be towed to remote operating bases for training pilots while on standby. As a result, SAS CFI Mike Kent told AIN, “there is no need to double-up on rosters to maintain availability.”

The generic device uses a JetRanger flight model and flies like a Bell 206 but has the flight instrument panel of an IFR-equipped AS 355. Courses are already booked well into next year.

Across the hall, cueSim demonstrated its own FNPT, a more sophisticated device that had just been set up with EMS operator (and SAS neighbor) Bond Aviation Services. This fixed-base simulator has just been CAA certified to level 3, which clears Bond to offer all type-related training–VFR as well as instrument–on the EC 135T2. The company also has an external market in Bond Offshore Services, which is now back in harness flying BP workers to and from North Sea oil installations in its AS 322L2 Super Pumas.

CueSim was also marking the award of a contract with Ka-32 operator Helisureste, for a Bell 412 device to be set up at its Alicante headquarters. The OEM is currently gathering model flight-test data; factory acceptance is expected in the spring, with delivery next summer and entry into service in the fall. Said technical director Paul Read, “We have to get it certified again but, with CAA approval under our belt, we should have a slightly easier task in Spain.”

Avionics Upgrades

DRS introduced what may be the smallest stabilized sensor pod yet: a 10- by 7-inch device that weighs less than 15 pounds and can accommodate four sensors. An infrared-sensor-fitted GS207 is currently being installed in a Bell Jet-Ranger and a small unmanned patrol boat. The price of the GS207 is said to be light, too, at $125,000.

Sagem Avionics has won an STC for its integrated cockpit display for the AS 350B2. The certification work was carried out by Eagle Helicopters of Spokane, Wash., which plans to offer a full installation kit for the glass cockpit and extend the STC to cover other AS 350 variants.

 Blue Sky Network launched the latest version of its SkyRouter, an interactive Web portal for tracking vehicles of any sort, anywhere on earth. Originally developed for the trucking industry, SkyRouter was subsequently adapted to track the movements of fishing vessels and, last year, to monitor an isolated Air Logistics pipeline detachment in Alaska. Its latest D1000C proved itself in action last winter, as the system successfully used by British polar fliers Jennifer Murray and Colin Bodill to summon rescue after crashing their 407 onto the Antarctic ice pack.

SkyRouter is based on a satellite phone mounted in the cockpit, and routed to two single or dual-channel antennas–one of them externally mounted (satellite signals need an unobstructed line of sight). These communicate with the Iridium constellation that provides coverage to extremes of latitude–to 89 degrees, 59.9 minutes north and south, according to Blue Sky CEO Jon Gilbert.

“The pilot switches it on and selects an interval between position reports–say two minutes. Every two minutes the system will report the aircraft’s GPS position and selected parameters (altitude, speed and so on) back to base, or indeed any authorized satphone or Web browser. It can be set up in ‘geo-fence’ mode–alerting base if it strays off track. And a ‘quick position’ button can be pressed to send an immediate alert.”

Asked whether the panic button might not be better situated on one of the flying controls, Gilbert explained that it was a matter of certification. “As it is, we can fit the system as an FAA ‘minor mod.’ Putting it on the cyclic would require an STC.”

Skyquest Aviation’s video management system (VMS) enables users to input many video, VGA, RGB or Stanag signals into one unit and route the output, retained at the highest native resolution, to as many displays and downlinks as required. According to marketing director Geoff Turner, you can do “all this through a single standard signal cable.

“Any display can now select simultaneously any input signal, including multiple video signals and moving-map images. With a touch of the screen, any signal can be switched instantly to full screen. Standard display features such as freeze frame, digital zoom and image enhancement are retained. The display can also control and show the status of two video recorders.”

Final figures for Helitech 2005 revealed nearly 1,000 new visitors (now approaching 7,500) and more than 250 exhibitors–up 25 percent since the 2003 show.

Helitech 2005