Eurocopter’s three-year effort to revamp its EcoStar was unveiled earlier this year with a strong initial order book for more than 100 helicopters. The company expects certification of the $2.5 million single-engine EC130T2 later this year. “We listened to our customers,” said Janick Blanc, Eurocopter vice president for light helicopter programs.
Apparently, the company got an ear full.
The air-tour industry worked with Eurocopter to develop the original EcoStar, the EC130B4. Deliveries of the helicopter, based on the popular AS350B3 AStar, began in 2001. While operators praised the EcoStar’s low noise signature, spacious cabin and outstanding visibility for pilot and up to seven passengers, there were a few problems. The factory-supplied air conditioning was anemic and the helicopter’s big windows, ideal for sightseeing, turned the cabin into a greenhouse in places like Las Vegas and Maui. Door hinges and bushings failed repeatedly under the daily tour grind. Tail booms developed cracks near the fenestron assembly, eventually prompting an airworthiness directive. Engine TBO was 3,500 hours and, for a while, there were problems with the swashplates cracking at less than half that interval. Nevertheless, tour companies ordered EcoStars aggressively and the helicopter’s large cabin eventually also made it a popular choice for medevac providers in search of large-cabin singles.
The revamped T2 seeks to satisfy both of these constituencies and address some long-standing complaints. While the T2 looks almost identical to the B4, Blanc said that more than 70 percent of the airframe has been changed to accommodate higher mtow, and a more robust transmission handles the additional torque from the 952-shp dual-channel Fadec Turbomeca Arriel 2D engine, 14 percent more powerful than the 2B1 engine it replaces. This is the same engine that is now standard on the AS350Be. TBO on the engine also increases initially to 4,000 hours, and Blanc said he is confident that it will eventually increase to 6,000 hours. The new engine also adds 10 knots to cruise speed while cutting specific fuel consumption. Maximum takeoff weight increases by 154 pounds to 5,512 pounds (internal loads) and 6,724 pounds (external loads). The hinged, swing-out, right-hand rear door can be replaced with an optional automotive-style slider that is secured with a massive pin assembly. The tailboom-fenestron join has been structurally reinforced and more rivets have been added to the area. External access panels have been redesigned to speed and ease maintenance, and the T2 has been designed with a more crash-resistant fuel bladder.
Inside the cabin, the T2 features important changes. The seats have been redesigned for improved comfort and the mounting box for the rear row has been removed. This gives the T2 a completely flat-floor cabin, making it both easier to remove the rear row seats and simpler to install a medevac cabin. Eurocopter went back to the drawing board, designing an all-new, two-zone, air conditioning and defrosting system that packs nearly twice the power of the old system, from 4.5 to 7.5 kilowatts. Blanc says the new system can defrost the windshield “very quickly” and has more gaspers and vents for better air distribution throughout the cabin. Factory tinting is now available on the Plexiglas. While the Thales vehicle engine monitoring display remains standard equipment in the instrument panel, customers can opt for the Garmin G500H glass-panel system. An Appareo cockpit data and video recording system is also an available factory option. Overall airframe vibration is dampened by a new active Lord system that features a processing computer tied to sensors and actuators.
Air-tour operators have responded enthusiastically to the T2 and placed large orders; Las Vegas-based Maverick and Papillon ordered 50 and 20, respectively, while Blue Hawaiian ordered 20. The orders come as the U.S. Congress is employing the carrot-and-stick approach to further mitigating helicopter noise over national parks, recently passing legislation that concurrently gives the U.S. Park Service more authority to regulate air tours while holding open the option of subsidies and/or tax incentives for tour operators who buy quiet-technology aircraft such as the EC130T2.