Small but noteworthy helicopter equipment manufacturers found a suitable showcase for their products at Helitech 2007 in Duxford, England, early last month. Big OEMs Agusta-Westland, Bell, Enstrom, Eurocopter, MD Helicopters, Robinson and Sikor- sky (along with accompanying subsidiary Schweizer) were either present or represented, and they had sales to announce. Nevertheless, the event left smaller firms plenty of room to emerge and highlight their products.
Eurocopter logged several orders during the event. Era Helicopters at Helitech 2007 signed a contract for four EC 225s, to operate in the Gulf of Mexico. The Louisiana-based offshore oil operator now has eight of the 24,000-pound twins on order.
At the show, Eurocopter and UK distributor McAlpine Helicopters also announced that the Devon and Cornwall Constabulary has ordered an EC 145. The helicopter, which will be used in a police air support role, will be delivered by the end of 2009.
Rival Sikorsky received an order from offshore operator Bristow Group, for four S-92s and three S-76C++ medium twins. The options Bristow has exercised are worth a combined $100 million. Deliveries of the helicopters are pegged for late next year.
On the S-76C++, Honeywell announced that its EVXP health and usage monitoring system (hums) has been FAA certified and selected by Sikorsky as an option for the S-76C++. The EVXP hums monitors aircraft vibration, engine and structural health, providing, according to Honeywell, lower maintenance costs and increased operational readiness.
A representative of MD Helicopters was also on hand at the event. He declined to say how many deliveries the company has planned for this year. During the first half of this year, the company reduced the planned delivery figure from 48 to 43 helicopters. Since she took the controls two years ago, CEO Lynn Tilton has made on-time deliveries her priority.
New Engine Developments
Pratt & Whitney Canada confirmed that its certification target for the 1,000-shp-class PW210S turboshaft engine is the middle of next year. The engine has run 500 hours so far. Sikorsky is planning to use the engine on the S-76D medium twin, which is scheduled to fly late next year. Pratt & Whitney Canada will send flight-test engines to Sikorsky before engine certification.
Development of the Rolls-Royce RR300, a 300-shp derivative of the Model 250, is now well under way. It has run some 400 hours. Rolls-Royce is sticking to its target of early next year for certification. The five-seat R66–Robinson’s first turbine rotorcraft–will be the first application of the new engine. Rolls-Royce shipped the first two engines to the Torrance, Calif. company in July.
Separately, Rolls-Royce has announced it is partnering with Starflex for AS 355 upgrades with the Model 250-C20R engine, rated at 450 shp. Delaware-based Starflex will offer the enhancement package as the AS 355F1R/F2R performance upgrade. According to the engine maker, the -C20R reduces fuel burn, improves hot-and-high performance and delivers better safety margins.
Helitech also provided a chance for smaller manufacturers to showcase their designs for the helicopter market. Fischer+Entwicklungen, a German company based near Munich, exhibited a new, lighter pilot seat that will enter service by year-end on a Eurocopter EC 135. Sales and marketing manager Heidrun Borchardt told AIN the seat includes new materials and features a new assembly design. The bottom line is a 10-percent reduction in weight–to about 22 pounds with a fabric cover. With a leather cover, the seat weighs about 26 pounds. In India, Hindustan Aeronautics is mulling replacing older F+E pilot seats with the new model, Borchardt said.
The same company also offers an executive seat that looks more comfortable and can recline, swivel and shift. An armrest can house a small, foldable table tray. So far, F+E’s executive seat has found its way into helicopters such as the executive-configured S-92. Its weight, 53 pounds, might not sound high to those used to even heavier business jet seats. However, by helicopter standards, a 53-pound seat is heavy; a troop seat can be as light as 16 pounds.
Those who associate Martin-Baker only with ejection seats would have been surprised to see this name on the exhibitor list at a helicopter show. But the famous England-based company is also active in unlaunchable seats. Its helicopter-dedicated models feature energy-absorption that meets the 30-g crashworthiness requirement and absorbs the energy in a smoother manner than the conventional “cutter” system.
During a crash, two rollers crush a metal tube that is attached to the seat while it descends to the cabin floor. “Flattening the tube is a continuous process,” ensuring a smooth lumbar load, design engineer Paul Sandom told AIN. A cutter system, on the other hand, lets “peaks” of crash energy reach the occupant’s backbone.
Martin-Baker’s multifunction operator seat also features a stand-up harness. This means that the operator can stand up without unfastening his harness. The belts reel out just enough. Rather than the three-point stand-up harness, the customer can opt for a conventional five-point one. Moreover, the operator seat rotates 360 degrees by 15-degree increments. This seat weighs 45 pounds.
Cabin and Exterior Lighting Gets Smart
Albuquerque, N.M.-based DeVore Aviation exhibited its PLASI-2000 visual approach aid. The lighting system on the ground provides the pilot with a clear, conventional indication of the glideslope. But what about the night-vision goggle-equipped pilot, who cannot distinguish the pulsing red (too low) from the pulsing green or white (too high)? “You can set two different frequencies–one pulse means ‘too high,’ two pulses means ‘too low,’ solid means ‘OK,’” marketing and sales director Tom Littleford explained.
Navigation lights (those attached to the aircraft, this time) are getting smarter, too. Swiss-based Ruag Aerospace is offering LED lights that consume less power–12 watts–than conventional lights. They are also said to be hardier against vibration, and therefore more reliable. Moreover, they emit less electromagnetic interference and are compatible with night-vision goggles.
All these features should help operators recoup the cost of a conversion, which Heinz Scholl, Ruag’s helicopter maintenance general manager, acknowledged is expensive. Ruag has these LED lights approved on the Eurocopter AS 350B, and the nod for the B3 variant is pending, Scholl said.
Satellite Communications Get More Cost-Effective
In dispatcher-to-helicopter communications, SkyConnect is developing more flexible ways for operation centers to contact crews. Two-way short text messaging is currently available through the U.S.-based firm’s range of products. Dispatchers currently use the Web-based Tracker-map system to send messages. SkyConnect engineers are now working on other Internet-based methods, such as standard e-mail.
“The system already pays for itself the first time a helicopter is called back when out of radio range,” a representative told AIN. SkyConnect uses the Iridium satellite constellation. In flight or on the ground, a crew can send useful short messages, such as estimated time of arrival or number of passengers. These 32-letter messages are pre-written and can be customized.
Secure voice communications are available. The company recently introduced its PlusOne service to keep costs in check. According to SkyConnect, the aircraft can be called by using a standard phone number with a U.S. country code, which eliminates the trouble and expense of using a “satellite” country code.
Another service available from Sky-Connect is real-time aircraft tracking.
A transceiver sends GPS-based position reports at automated intervals to authorized control centers. Once received, the information can be presented graphically.
Canadian competitor Latitude is offering a similar range of products that use Iridium for messaging, voice and flight-tracking communications. The devices allow users to send e-mails, including photo attachments, via a PC port. “Of course, this is a low-speed Internet connection, but it is still worthwhile because otherwise you would have to fly back to your base to upload your pictures,” said business development vice president Harlan Hamlin.
Latitude engineers are developing a new interface for short text messages. This will be a small Qwerty keyboard. In September, Latitude announced that the first AgustaWestland Grand light twin helicopter registered in the U.S. had been fitted with the SkyNode S200 voice/data communications and tracking system.
Indian Company Touts Design Outsourcing Benefits
Infotech, a Hyderabad, India-based design engineering firm, was at Helitech looking for customers in the helicopter industry for its design engineering services. According to German-based marketing
manager Kerstin Neumann, the company is an Airbus service supplier and is talking to Eurocopter. “Outsourcing to India can help Western design offices to save money, thanks to lower labor costs,” she said. In addition, the time difference can be a benefit. “Engineers at a major manufacturer can leave their office at 5 p.m. and find the results of a calculation they asked for when they come back the next morning,” she explained.
Emergency Float Makers Strive To Keep Weight Down
Aerazur, a French-based company that specializes in emergency flotation systems, has reduced the weight of its 10-person life raft for the Eurocopter EC 155 Dauphin. Total weight has been cut from 77 to 64 pounds. “We have changed the technology of the inflating gas bottles,” a spokesman told AIN. Since the EC 155 needs two of these life rafts, the total weight saving is 26 pounds. According to the spokesman, the installation still awaits approval.
Aerazur will also equip the Bell 429 and is in talks to equip the Eurocopter EC 175 and future AgustaWestland models, he added.
At Helitech, competitor Dart Helicopter Services announced EASA certification for its cargo door-mounted life raft kit for the Sikorsky S-76A/B/C. The S-76 kit includes two replacement carbon-fiber cargo doors with integrated 10-person life raft, replacement hinges that connect to existing hardpoints and a complete inflation system. Dart claims the net weight increase is 121 pounds.
The U.S.-based equipment manufacturer has received EASA certification of the Apical Tri-Bag emergency float systems for the Bell 212, 412CF and Agusta AB412 and AB412EP. In parallel, the Tri-Bag system is now also EASA-certified for the Bell 206A/B/L/L-1/L-3/L-4 and 407. Available with or without the life raft, the float design consists of two forward, two mid and two aft floats, which are attached to the skid gear.