Rolls-Royce pins fortunes on UAVs and emerging civil markets

 - March 14, 2007, 8:15 AM

A strengthening worldwide market for civil and military helicopters is responsible for keeping senior executives at engine-maker Rolls-Royce jubilant–but not satisfied.
Looking to the near-term future, Rolls-Royce views unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) and emerging civil markets in China and India as the next big growth areas, according to Scott Crislip, president of helicopters and small gas turbine engines for the UK manufacturer.

But even without these untapped potential markets, the helicopter division of Rolls-Royce exudes optimism for the future. The company enjoyed strong growth last year, and the good times are expected to continue this year and beyond. “We were right on target [last year]” in terms of sales, Crislip said. “It was neat to see.” As was the case last year, the company’s 10-year worldwide helicopter market outlook is being revised upward again this year, making for even better projected delivery and financial numbers than previously expected. Initial estimates said the company expects to fill 10,915 engine orders in the next 10 years, 5,191 of them for the civil market.

The Model 250 engine, Rolls-Royce’s flagship powerplant, continues to benefit from growth as the industry as a whole grows and orders for new platforms pour in. Crislip said the company expects to deliver more than 300 Model 250s this year, and between 300 and 350 a year for “some time to come.”

The Model 250, with more than 29,000 units produced and an estimated 17,000 currently in service, flies on the industry’s most popular helicopters from the Enstrom 480B to the Bell 430. So it’s not surprising that as the industry goes, so goes Rolls-Royce’s popular light engine. “We are paced by supply programs of aircraft,” noted Crislip, adding that production of the Model 250 is growing because Bell Helicopter is sold out through 2009, there is optimism for a revitalized MD Helicopters, and smaller makers like Enstrom, Schweizer and PZL Swidnik all look strong.

The company is also excited about the Series IV engine family, which covers the 650- to 715-shp range of the Model 250 and also includes the C30 upgrade. According to Crislip, the C30 allows for increased flight safety margins, as well as better hot-and-high capability.

Along with the Model 250’s growth, Crislip said interest in the larger RTM322 engine is strong and expected to grow even more. To date, the partnership between Rolls-Royce and Turbomeca that builds the engine has produced more than 1,500. An upgrade to the line increases power to 2,600 shp.

Stinging from the cancellation of the Army’s Comanche attack helicopter program, the Light Helicopter Turbine Engine Company (LHTEC), a Rolls-Royce/Honeywell partnership, spent much of last year searching for new customers. By all accounts it was a good year. In June Rolls-Royce announced a $140 million contract from AgustaWestland to power the British Armed Forces’ Future Lynx helicopter. The UK Ministry of Defense has already ordered more than 70, making the LHTEC T800 a viable engine, despite a rough start. The T800 is also in competition to partner with AgustaWestland on the A129 attack helicopter in Turkey and has been selected as the engine for the Sikorsky X2 technology demonstrator in the U.S.

Crislip went on to talk about untapped military markets, such as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV). The Model 250 powers the Northrop Grumman RQ-8A/MQ-8B Fire Scout, which Crislip expects to have huge potential for Rolls-Royce. As the UAVs continue to demonstrate their ability to operate effectively, said Crislip, there will be many applications beyond the military, including drug interdiction and other para-military applications.

Despite all the growth expected in foreign and domestic military sectors, Crislip said he sees Asia’s civilian market as one of the biggest areas of opportunity. “India and China have explosive potential,” he said, adding, however, that both countries have issues with regulations that are stifling growth to this point. Regulations in India are in the process of changing to more closely align with those in the U.S., he said. In other words, fewer restrictions placed on VFR flight.