New Zealand company unveils composite helicopter                     

 - August 28, 2011, 11:35 AM

A New Zealand company plans to build an all-composite, six-seat turbine single for less than the price of a new Robinson R66.

Composite Helicopters of Auckland brought the carbon fiber and Kevlar fuselage of its new KC518 Adventourer to EAA AirVenture Oshkosh in July, hoped to have the first one flying in August and plans to display it at next year’s Heli-Expo. The helicopter will initially be offered as a $337,000 kit (with a $44,500 fast-build option), but the company plans to offer a certified production model eventually for $795,000. The helicopter features a four-blade aluminum main rotor and shrouded composite tail rotor.

Preliminary specifications are based on kit helicopters fitted with the Rolls-Royce RR250-C20B/J engine and call for the KC518 to be available in five- to six-seat configurations, have a cruise speed of 135 knots, an endurance of 3.6 hours (96-gallon tanks) and a useful load of 1,450 pounds. With a full complement of passengers and baggage the endurance slips to 2.6 hours. Anticipated IGE and OGE hover ceilings are 10,000 and 8,000 feet, respectively, with a maximum altitude of 14,000 feet and a 1,000-fpm rate of climb. Certified models will be equipped with either the Rolls-Royce 300 or 500 series engine and cargo sling and spray system options will be available. The version with the 300 engine will have a max takeoff weight of 2,850 pounds; the derated 500-powered model will see that increased to 3,200 pounds and be dedicated primarily to users with high/hot requirements.

Jacques Malan, the helicopter’s dealer for Australia and Africa, said the certification process is likely to begin in six months, with certified aircraft available in two years. He said the company has spent the last two years filing patents on the design and building production molds.

Kit builders should be able to complete their helicopters for approximately $400,000, including the cost of a rebuilt engine from the surplus market, said company president Peter Maloney. The fast-build option includes rotor blades, transmission, finished panels complete with installed hardware and gas struts inlaid into the doors. The CAA has cleared the first two owner/builders to construct their helicopters in the factory and to have their experiences documented in the assembly manual. Maloney said that funds from kit sales will be used to help finance the certification effort but added that the program is fully funded through certification. He said the company has received 14 to 16 “expressions of interest” accompanied by refundable $5,000 deposits. 

Malan said the company’s experience with building helicopter cargo pods persuaded it to use “rather chunky” hardware and fasteners made of either stainless steel or high-grade aluminum. He also said that the company opted to go with automotive-style rubber door seals to prevent leaks. This desire for durability carried over to the design of the transmission, swashplates and main rotor shaft.

Malan predicted that the KC518’s noise signature would be “fairly low” given its 380 rpm main rotor speed and 585 fpm rotor tip speed, which “is only slightly faster than that on an MD500.”

Air conditioning will be available for both kit and production models and the company has designed the left side of cowl to accommodate the condensor and pump. The helicopter is also designed with an unusual amount of stowage space distributed among four lockers offering 39.5 cu ft/660 pounds of capacity.

Maloney said the use of monolithic structures and their resulting ease of assembly allows the company to keep its prices low. “The entire fuselage is made in just one hit,” he said. 

“Our manufacturing time, when compared with that of conventional helicopters, is bordering on the ridiculous. My wife and I built this one in six weeks.”