Heli-Expo 2005 Report

 - February 5, 2007, 8:14 AM

The award of the U.S. Presidential VXX contract a few days before Heli-Expo was a hot topic in the Anaheim Convention Center last month. The decision went to the Lockheed Martin US-101, a helicopter with British and Italian roots, and came as a surprise to the many observers who assumed that Connecticut-based Sikorsky had the inside track with its newer S-92.

The level of direct domestic involvement in building the US-101, the focus of much debate during the year-long competition, turned out to matter less to the U.S. government than expertise in integrating airframe and mission systems into a coherent package. Lockheed Martin has recent experience with such integration on this particular airframe (on the British Royal Navy Merlin variant).

As it is, 200 suppliers in 41 states will contribute to the two-thirds of the US-101 to be built in the U.S. The first third of the work will be split between AgustaWestland plants in the UK (primary fuselage and main rotor blades) and Italy (dynamic components, including most of the gearboxes). All 23 helicopters will then be assembled at a new, secure facility near the recently completed Bell premises in Amarillo, Texas. Lockheed Martin will build an integration facility at its plant in Owego, N.Y., to prepare the aircraft for customer delivery.

U.S. Navy Assistant Secretary John Young said the extra cabin space in the US-101 was one plus, and AgustaWestland technical support v-p Tony Duthie told AIN that the final tolerances in this regard came down to “fractions of inches.”

As it does in most of these deals, politics also played a part: the acknowledged personal intervention of British Prime Minister Tony Blair and his Italian counterpart, Silvio Berlusconi, surely had some bearing on the final decision. The European leaders are two of President Bush’s strongest supporters in the war on terror and his stand on Iraq.

Sikorsky’s Plans
Richard Aboulafia, vice president of analysis for the Teal Group, an aerospace and defense research group based in Fairfax, Va., suggested that Sikorsky might have over-emphasized the importance of the Marine One contract to its overall business plan.

Aboulafia said, “Sikorsky painted itself into a corner by making this bigger than it really is. In reality, the situation is not that bad.” Aboulafia agreed that one of the factors was Lockheed’s expertise in military systems integration. “It’s less about the helicopter and more about the ‘system of systems,’” he said.

The new Presidential helicopter will be christened the VH-71 Kestrel.

Determined to put a brave face on its VXX defeat, Sikorsky revealed a series of product improvements for its S-76 series, including all-composite main rotor blades with de-icing capability, new avionics and engine options. The S-76D will have a new Pratt & Whitney Canada engine, and an S-76C++ VIP interior designed by Heritage Aviation will offer an updated five-person seating arrangement and improved soundproofing. Combined with Sikorsky’s new QuietZone transmission in the main gearbox, which will be included on all S-76 corporate/VIP deliveries from this year, the reduction in cabin noise is claimed to “provide new standards in passenger comfort.”

Scheduled for delivery in mid-2008, the S-76D will incorporate many features from the S-76C++ and improve upon others. A new Pratt & Whitney Canada PW210S turboshaft, specifically designed around the platform, will replace the Turbomeca 2S2 and provide an additional 1,000 pounds of lifting capacity in hot conditions.

“We knew we wanted a new engine, and Pratt & Whitney brought us a deal to put a new centerline engine on our aircraft,” said senior vice president of sales and commercial programs Jeff Pino. “They would size it, scope it and configure it for our aircraft. The deal was impossible to turn down.”

The S-76D is expected to have 1,400 pounds more hot-and-high lifting capability as a result, and the composite main rotor blade design will be able to handle an additional 400 pounds. It will also incorporate the same rotorcraft icing protection system currently being certified on the S-92.

Sikorsky also marked the delivery of an S-92 to Norsk Helikopter, inked a deal for the sale of two S-92s (as well as four S-76C+s) to Petroleum Helicopters (PHI) and received Transport Canada certification for the S-92.

Norsk is scheduled to accept delivery of a second S-92, for service with Statoil, later this spring. Delivery of the PHI aircraft, scheduled to begin in the middle of this year, will expand the operator’s Sikorsky fleet to six S-92s and 19 S-76s, out of a total fleet of more than 50 rotorcraft.

Finally came a deal with Era for five S-76s, two in the C+ configuration and three C++ models. Deliveries will begin in the first quarter of next year.

Schweizer Aims To Increase Production
Currently carrying an order backlog for 73 aircraft, new Sikorsky subsidiary Schweizer usually promises delivery within a year. “That has to change,” said Paul Schweizer. “Other manufacturers promise two or three months, so we’re clearly not supporting customers as well as we should.”

In its new role as a Sikorsky company, Schweizer plans to double sales within three or four years while cutting waiting time to about three months.

This year’s schedule estimates production at 77 helicopters, including fifty-five 333CBis, twelve 300Cs and ten 333s. By next year Sikorsky plans to double that rate.

If that seems like a tall order, Sikorsky vice president Paul Martin said that the “lean” manufacturing processes his company practices will help Schweizer meet its goal without the need to add employees. He also said that Sikorsky plans to invest heavily in its new subsidiary, and that it will keep its promise not to overburden it with bureaucracy. Such words must sound like music to the ears of a company that, for many years, was limited by its lack of financial muscle but used to doing things its own way.

Under the new arrangement, Sikorsky plans to involve Schweizer heavily in R&D efforts. Borrowing half a phrase from his days at Lockheed, Martin referred to Schweizer as Sikorsky’s “Hawk Works.” “You’ll be seeing some dramatic announcements,” he said.

Martin expressed particular enthusiasm about Schweizer’s Fire Scout UAV, noting its perfect safety record after more than 140 autonomous flights. Schweizer plans to deliver four of the vehicles to the U.S. Navy this year, starting in May. Most recently, Northrop awarded Schweizer a contract to build eight Fire Scouts for the U.S. Army’s Future Combat System (FCS) program. Schweizer expects to deliver all eight vehicles to Northrop Grumman next year for use in FCS system integration and related testing. If all goes according to plan, Northrop Grumman will deliver the vehicles to the Army as a part of the complete FCS program in 2014.

Back in the civil realm, Schweizer delivered a new 300C to West Jordan, Utah-based High Desert Helicopters as the show ended. Other recent developments include the sale of ten 300CBis to UK distributor Caseright. The company had already ordered five of the type, the first of which, according to managing director Nick Tarrant, it expected to deliver to a private owner in Sheffield, England, before the end of last month.

Bell Introduces 429
As well as joining in the US-101 brouhaha, Bell had much to talk about. To the surprise of many, Bell introduced the 429, a new light twin replacing the 427i. CEO Mike Redenbaugh reported that all customers awaiting delivery of the 427i have upgraded to the larger type, christened the Global Ranger, which is expected to compete with Eurocopter’s EC 135. Although boasting a 70-percent bigger cabin than the 427, the design of the 429 will be close enough to the 427’s that Bell does not have to repeat the certification process. Certification and first deliveries are expected in 2007.

The 7,000-pound-mtow 429 is not so much a derivative of the 427 as it is a hybrid of the 427 and the first example of Bell’s MAPL (modular affordable product line) philosophy. It incorporates nine MAPL improvements. Most noticeable are the changes to the cabin, which has been opened up. The floor is flat, with all fuel now under it, and the flight control “broom closet,” formerly centered behind the cockpit, is gone. The flight controls are now routed through a closet behind the pilot’s seat. Other MAPL improvements include a new glass cockpit, main rotor and four-blade tail rotor.

First flight of the Pratt & Whitney Canada PW207-powered 429 is planned for early next year, said Redenbaugh, although some components will fly on a 427 test aircraft this year. Certification is planned for the first quarter of 2007, with first deliveries to follow sometime later that year.

Key to the success of the program, said Redenbaugh, is the participation as risk-sharing partners of Korea Aerospace Industries and Mitsui Bussan Aerospace of Japan. KAI already builds cabins for the 412 and 427 and will probably build 429 cabins as well. Redenbaugh said Bell and KAI were still discussing exactly what the Korean contribution would be, but it might also include engineering services. Mitsui Bussan, a large trading company, is a financial investor and will aid Bell with sales and marketing in the region. Bell will do the final assembly at its facility in Mirabel, Quebec, which will also handle flight-testing and certification.

Redenbaugh also revealed that Bell and Honeywell have agreed to put the HTS900 engine in the Bell 407, creating a new model known as the 407X. “We have invested more than $4 million in reliability and maintainability upgrades on the 407 over the past two years,” Redenbaugh said. “By adding the HTS900 to the 407, we are maintaining a path of spiral development that will bring performance improvement to an existing product.” Bell said that over the last two years it has fielded more than 50 product improvements for the 407 that have reduced operating costs by about $20 per hour.

The 813-shp Rolls-Royce 250-C47B turboshaft currently powers the 407. Redenbaugh said the company had not yet decided whether to continue offering both engines. “That depends on what our customers want,” he said, adding that a retrofit kit would be made available. The 925-shp HTS900, a development of Honeywell’s LTS101 turboshaft, provides a 15-percent improvement in installed power and is claimed to “significantly” improve hot and high performance.

The HTS900 has given the Phoenix-based engine company a much-needed shot in the arm. “It is the strongest message we can send that Honeywell is back,” proclaimed Barry Eccleston, the company’s vice president of propulsion systems.
All told, the company’s seventh Turbine-Powered Civil Helicopter Purchase Outlook projects 10 percent more sales from this year to 2009 compared with sales during the past five years. Looking further ahead, Honeywell sees a demand for 5,500 new helicopters into 2015–indicating that the second half of the next decade will see sales increase even more rapidly than the first half.

EMS Market Boosts Eurocopter Sales
After delivering more than 60 EC 135s last year, Eurocopter announced it would increase production of the light twin by 20 percent this year, up to 72 helicopters. The increase comes after a sharp rise in sales to the EMS market, which accounted for two-thirds of all EC 135 deliveries last year.

Ten of the ships sold last year are slated for delivery to CJ Systems, which with 110 helicopters providing air support to 80 different hospital-based EMS units is one of the largest EMS fleet operators in the U.S.

“We’ve found that the EC 135 offers the most effective EMS solution on the market,” said CJ Systems senior vice president Ed Marasco. “Although it’s not the largest available, it seems to be the right size for meeting our customers’ mission profiles.”

Eurocopter president Fabrice Bregier quietly announced a pending agreement with China to co-develop a new helicopter, to be known as the EC 175. The new 22,000-pound-mtow helicopter will be positioned between the EC 155 and the Super Puma.

“We are in deep talks for a huge program related to the co-development of new helicopters, which we believe would be very good for our export prospects,” Bregier said. “I am confident that we will confirm this agreement in the coming months.”

Although Bregier had little more to say about the new program, the announcement underscores the growing investment that the multinational company is making in the Chinese market. The OEM has already licensed a Chinese manufacturer in Harbin to produce the EC 120 for the Asian market. Eurocopter has also secured an order for 48 Chinese-built EC 120s, to be used for light helicopter training. Eurocopter will open a subsidiary in China this year to assist with co-developing the EC 175.

Eurocopter has delivered 12 Dauphin re-engining kits, manufactured at Eurocopter’s new Mississippi plant, to the U.S. Coast Guard. Unless it cancels the whole order in favor of buying newer helicopters such as the AB139–speculation that surfaced at the show–the USCG’s remaining fleet of 95 Dauphins is expected to be outfitted within the next two years.

Eurocopter has also applied for FAA approval to manufacture the AStar at the Mississippi plant, which is scheduled to roll out the first U.S. certified aircraft in July.
Offshore operator Petroleum Helicopters ordered 10 new EC 135P2 helicopters from American Eurocopter. Deliveries will start in April and the company may exercise its 10 options “depending on how they do,” said PHI CEO Al Gonsoulin.

Enstrom Invests in Optional Equipment
Enstrom president Jerry Mullins admitted that the loss of the $75 million U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) competition for a U.S. Customs Border Protection aircraft, which instead was awarded to Eurocopter, “was a wake-up call.”

“We realize that having the performance to meet the contract and providing all the additional equipment are two different things,” he said. “Price wise, we’re significantly lower than U.S. and European competition. Our 480B met the requirements but we didn’t have the optional equipment certified.”

Enstrom has already begun working on certifications for some of the equipment requested by the DHS and its agencies: the ability to allow either right-seat or left-seat pilot in command, a rotor brake, camera FLIR mounts, night-vision capability and barrier filters.

Mullins has started discussions with Wisconsin and Michigan for government funds to assist in the development and certification of optional equipment for the 480B. Additional improvements include a top-mounted engine with direct drive to open up baggage space, allow the bulkhead to be moved and increase cabin space.

“It’s difficult for a small company that relies on return on investment to compete with a company [with] unlimited development funds,” Mullins said. “There’s no doubt in my mind that the 480B will be extremely competitive with these additional items.” Enstrom is also talking with Rolls-Royce regarding modification of the 250-series engine to reduce costs.

Last year Enstrom delivered 35 percent more aircraft, including 18 turbines and five pistons, compared with the nine turbines and eight pistons it delivered in 2003. The majority of last year’s deliveries completed an 18-ship order from Indonesia, which is likely to result in a significant spares order this year.

Mullins expects Enstrom to grow another 30 percent in terms of sales, with 20 turbines and 12 pistons scheduled for production this year. While the immediate future looks secure for the small OEM, Mullins still frets about leveling the playing field.

Meanwhile, Boeing agreed to provide a multimillion-dollar cash infusion to troubled MD Helicopters.

Erickson Air-Crane handed over a refurbished S-64 Helitanker to Italy’s Corpo Forestale dello Stato (state forestry corps, or CFS). The aircraft is the second of four for the CFS to be upgraded by the Central Point, Ore. company, which has owned the helicopter’s type certificate since 1992.

Such has been the popularity of the machine over the past few years as an aerial firefighter that Erickson is fast running out of aircraft to upgrade and is reconfiguring its facility so that it can start building new ones.

The aircraft in the spotlight received an avionics upgrade that includes four multifunction displays and an LED warning panel in the cockpit, a three- axis automatic flight control system (AFCS) and a new environmental control system to replace the antiquated bleed-air device. In addition to performance information, the “firefighting” screen on the MFD offers mission-specific data such as water level in the integrated tank, the direction in which the water cannon is pointing and foam-on and -off indications.

Airframe and Engine Modifications
Keystone Helicopter introduced its new Silencer airframe, along with expanded Rolls-Royce 250 and Honeywell LTS101 engine services.

The Silencer uses an advanced carbon-fiber skeletal structure that incorporates AC ductwork into structural cross members and attaches to the airframe with isolators. The outer framework supports the interior for improved rigidity and reduced vibration, while permitting access for airframe inspections and allowing room for an acoustic blanket.

“Silencer provides significant noise suppression inside the cabin and improved structural integrity with no loss in fuel efficiency,” explained Jim Munda, vice president of engineering at Keystone.

Keystone’s display S-76 featured design panels that detach for maintenance access and sealed, edged cut-outs for gaspers, lights and switch panels.

The company is also talking to customers about its expansion of accessory capabilities on the Rolls-Royce and Honeywell engines. According to Ralph Kunz, Keystone vice president of MRO, adding accessory capabilities has allowed the company to offer a wider range of products on the R-R 250 engine, while supporting the LTS101.

The Engine Services Division, an authorized maintenance center for Rolls-Royce 250-series engines, recently moved into a 52,000-sq-ft facility in Coatesville, Pa., that is equipped with a test stand and SOA test cell. “We’ll close on some major contracts this year,” Kunz said. “Adding accessories allows us to do more for our customers.” Bell has hired Lord Corporation to build and assemble complete rotor heads for the 407 and 427/429, using bonded elastomeric isolators. Lord also supplies elastomeric tail rotor bearings and Frahm dampers, and a number of elastomeric components for pylon isolation.

Before contracting Lord, Bell bought (or manufactured) and assembled all its rotor-head components. Now the OEM can eliminate a host of procurement steps needed to build a system of more than 100 components.

This new “systems approach” extends to the repair and overhaul of components and blue-coat repair services. The company’s re-manufacturing program allows customers to choose from an exchange pool, spare replacement parts or complete overhaul.

Kaman Aerospace announced it would deliver a K-Max heavy-lift helicopter to South Korean operator Lucky Air by the end of last month. The delivery to Lucky Air, a newly formed division of Samsung Electric Power providing aerial lifting services throughout South Korea, will be the first K-Max to operate in that country.

“The K-Max will play a key role for us in several important missions,” said Samsung Power president Kyung Hwan Jung. “It will provide increased firefighting capability, and its lifting abilities will add a new dimension to our capabilities.”

The K-Max is an airframe returned from lease. The production line has been halted and only three aircraft remain, two on lease and one under contract for purchase.  

Bell/Augusta logs show's biggest order

Bell/Agusta Aerospace revealed an order for no fewer than 20 new AB139s–the biggest order announced at Heli-Expo and possibly the largest single civil order ever in its class– from offshore logistics firm Seacor Holdings. The aircraft, worth an estimated $200 million, will be delivered between later this year and 2009. They will be operated by Seacor subsidiary Era Helicopters, initially in deep-water areas in the Gulf of Mexico.

Era vice president Ed Washecka said that the AB139 is faster and has significantly greater payload/range capability than its competitors. “We believe it is the medium twin helicopter of the future.” 

The news of Bell/Agusta’s big AB139 order came a day after the FAA awarded certification to the U.S.-Italian joint venture for the medium twin and the handover of the first two so-approved aircraft to Evergreen International Aviation and ChevronTexaco.

Evergreen CEO Dell Smith told AIN that the company will use the new helicopter, the first of three, in the offshore oil sector starting next year.

Robinson Reports on Record Year

Last year was the best ever in terms of deliveries for Robinson Helicopter. The Torrance, Calif. company reported a flurry of activity at its manufacturing plant, saying that by the time the dust settled workers had built a record 690 helicopters–234 R22s and 456 R44s. Company founder and president Frank Robinson said last year’s delivery figures represented a 63-percent increase over 2003, when the company sold 422 helicopters. Robinson credited improving world economies and the weak dollar for boosting sales overseas, where most R22s and R44s are sold nowadays. He added that a doubling in size of the manufacturing plant last year means that production can be increased this year. As for new Robinson models on the horizon, the 75-year-old president said he is content with the current piston-engine line, but added that the company is still considering a larger R66 model, which could be powered by a diesel engine or perhaps even a turboshaft.   

Honeywell Forecast Predicts Sales Uptick

More interest in light single- and intermediate twin-engine models has given Honeywell reason to increase slightly this year’s projection for new turbine-powered helicopter sales over the next half decade to 2,400, compared with last year’s projection of 2,350. Honeywell expects corporate, EMS and law enforcement helicopters to account for more than 60 percent of all new civil rotorcraft sales through 2009, a projection bolstered by the category’s strong performance last year. Civil helicopter sales last year rose some 9 percent, and Honeywell expects another 4- to 6-percent jump this year.

All told, the company’s seventh Turbine-Powered Civil Helicopter Purchase Outlook projects 10 percent more sales from this year to 2009 compared with sales during the past five years. Looking further ahead, Honeywell sees a demand for 5,500 new helicopters into 2015–indicating that the second half of the next decade will see sales increase even more rapidly than the first half.