Farnborough Air Show

New-build Twin Otter will pull oil-field duty

 - July 17, 2010, 12:14 AM

Canada’s Viking Air celebrates a major milestone here this afternoon when it hands over its first new Twin Otter 400 to launch customer Zimex Aviation. The Swiss operator plans to send the aircraft to North Africa to work in support of contracts for the oil and gas industry. The revamped, 21st-Century version of the classic twin turboprop made its first flight in February and completed the Canadian and European certification process last month. U.S. certification is expected by the end of this year.

This first production version of the Series 400, which is appearing in the daily flight display at Farnborough, was given Serial Number 845, thus continuing the type’s original de Havilland run, which ended 22 years ago. Viking (Hall 2 Stand C20a) holds orders for 50 of the new model with a collective value of some $200 million and the Canadian company says it is working on possible deals with some 40 prospective clients.

“We’ve been lucky and have not been hit by any cancellations or delays,” said business development v-p Robert Mauracher, who noted that the values of existing Twin Otters have held strong even during the recent downturn. “Our biggest problem right now is that people don’t want to wait until 2013 to get a new airplane.”

Of the original 844 Twin Otters built, nearly 600 are still flying. While Viking has preserved many features of the original de Havilland Canada DHC-6’s famously rugged airframe–it acquired the original DHC-6 type certificate from Bombardier in 2006– the new aircraft’s engineers have made more than 400 changes from the legacy version. “We’ve added things only where either obsolescence was an issue or we could add value through technology,” said Mauracher.

Composites Introduced

Among the changes were the substitution of composite doors and nose to reduce weight and increase payload, the installation of LED lighting, improved airflow in the cabin and cockpit, and the creation of a modern glass cockpit designed around Honeywell’s Primus Apex avionics suite. Viking initially considered Garmin’s G1000, but the system’s primary flight displays did not meet the level-A software requirements needed for a transport category aircraft with more than nine seats, such as the Twin Otter.

According to Mauracher, North American sales account for only eight of the aircraft in the order book so far, including three to the U.S. Army. “Our market is the rest of the world,” he said, “and we still haven’t tapped India and other developing markets that we see as fertile ground in the future.” Based on its current sales, the company is also pursuing certification in Australia and Russia.

This year, Viking plans to deliver the 10 Twin Otters currently under construction in Calgary, and next year it wants to build 16 to 18 aircraft before deciding whether to ramp up to peak production of 24 in 2012. Mauracher noted that the newly opened manufacturing facility at the company’s headquarters in Victoria, British Columbia, could eventually produce enough part sets for nearly 50 aircraft a year, but the actual assembly of that many would require more investment in infrastructure.
While many of the aircraft components are made in Victoria, the company has subcontracted others. Fleet Canada in Ontario makes the empennage, while Quebec-based Delastek Aéronautique makes the composite parts.

Under current plans, Viking will build all aircraft to a standard specification and install customer-selected options upon completion. Currently on the options list are a de-icing package that includes Goodrich boots on the wings and tail, prop de-icing and heated windshield, air conditioning; private and commercial IFR packages, long-range wingtip fuel tanks, and any landing gear the customer wants as long as it’s wheels, straight floats, amphibious floats, skis or wheeled skis. The company expects to offer a Honeywell autopilot option by the end of the year.

Powered by a pair of Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6A-34s or optional PT6A-35s (tuned for hot-and-high operations) driving three-blade Hartzell propellers, the Series 400 has a top speed of 182 knots at 10,000 feet and a range of nearly 800 miles with standard fuel tanks. The unpressurized twin has a service ceiling of 26,700 feet (with crew/passenger oxygen), and STOL performance that allows the aircraft to clear a 50-foot obstacle in 1,200 feet. While Viking is still evaluating the final performance figures, the 400 series is lighter and faster than the legacy Twin Otter and has a “better than hoped-for fuel burn.”

Cargo and Roll-up Doors
Each aircraft comes equipped as standard with a 54-inch-wide cargo door;  in-flight-operable fold-up and roll-up doors for aerial cargo drops and parachuting are optional. The basic seating configuration provides a 19-seat commuter cabin in a one-two layout. Another option provides folding seats for quick conversion for cargo hauling. The cabin–which is more than 18 feet long–also provides locations for a lavatory at either the front or rear. Viking has even received orders for four aircraft with a VIP club interior, which will be completed either by Wipaire in Minnesota or by California-based Ikhana Group subsidiary RW Martin.

As part of its new 84,000-sq-ft manufacturing facility at Victoria International Airport, Viking opened a new corporate head office last December, freeing up additional space in its previous structure next door that will continue to house its maintenance and FBO operations. The company recently received EASA Part 145 maintenance approval, which will allow it to perform and certify maintenance on European-registered aircraft.