Old Hiller helo rises again as the FHoenix

 - May 7, 2008, 5:39 AM

Featuring a modified nose, upgraded avionics and simplified construction, a modernized FH-1100 helicopter should be in production by 2004. Georges Van Nevel, president of the FH-1100 Manufacturing Corp., recently told AIN that he anticipates FAA certification for the upgraded helo by the end of this year, with first deliveries expected within 18 months of production startup.

Dubbed the FHoenix, the new helicopter draws on the proven elements of the Fairchild-Hiller FH-1100–a design dating back to May 1961 when the Model 1100 lost the U.S. Army’s Light Observation Helicopter (LOH) program–to which some components produced from composite materials have been substituted and upgraded avionics mounted on a new console. Use of composites to produce a new engine cowling and redesigned nose contribute to the reduction in build time from 2,300 hr to 1,600 hr.

This will help the company to achieve its aim to offer a competitively priced light helicopter. Van Nevel reported “several” firm orders for the FHoenix but he declined to give specific numbers until the helo gets its ticket and firm delivery dates can be given to customers. Meanwhile, Stewart McQuillan, who spearheads the company’s sales and marketing division, said that in addition to the U.S. and the UK, there is a “lot of interest” in the new program, with potential customers from South America to Southeast Asia attracted by the lower operating costs of the FHoenix.

A removable center doorpost makes for added flexibility in roles for the FH-1100, so that in an EMS guise it can accommodate two trauma victims and an attending medic quickly and efficiently. Other possible applications include law enforcement, border patrol and a range of defense uses, as well as corporate service. However, while police aviation units in the U.S. are showing interest in the FHoenix, European insistence that public-service helos must be turbine twins limits the market potential in that region.

Nevertheless, low-cost, high-reliability and a 110-kt maximum speed increases the appeal of the upgraded FH-1100. With DOCs of $186 per hour, and the Rolls-Royce 250-C20B derated from 313 shp to 204 shp burning 22 gallons per hour, the upgraded helo is claimed to be significantly cheaper to operate than the Bell 206. “It lifts more and has a higher ceiling,” noted McQuillan.

“Everyone is looking at cost,” he said and some foreign governments are showing interest in placing quantity orders. In anticipation of this firm interest being converted into paid deposits, FH-1100 Manufacturing is preparing an assembly line at its Century, Fla. plant in readiness for full production.

Before then, a decision on the avionics supplier will have to be taken, with Honeywell a leading contender, although the company is talking with other potential sources. “A choice will be made in the next couple of months,” said McQuillan. Ideally, he would like to offer three different levels of avionics suite, with a full glass cockpit being top of the range.

The company’s plans call for the manufacture of the FHoenix, as well as modernizing existing FH-1100s. Indeed, McQuillan noted that the new nose assembly will be offered as a kit to enable existing operators to upgrade their own aircraft, or have the task performed by appointed support facilities.

A paraplegic with inventive skills, McQuillan has developed a flight-control system for disabled pilots and plans to take a FHoenix on a round-the-world demonstration tour next year. “We are about halfway toward the sponsorship goal,” he said, and although the route has yet to be determined a visit to the Paris Air Show is a priority.