Flight-test phase begins for Eurocopter EC175
The Eurocopter EC175 medium twin’s first prototype (PT1) is now undergoing flight tests from its base at the manufacturer’s headquarters in Marignane, France. First flight took place on December 4.
Between December 4 and the helicopter’s official introduction on December 17 in Marignane, six flights were performed. This was a quick start, according to experimental flight-test engineer Patrick Bremond, who heads the flight-test program. The first flight lasted one hour and 10 minutes, which is much longer than the usual 20-minute test flights. PT1 made its first ground run on November 20.
During the EC175’s flight test program, slight design changes are expected. For example, the size, shape and position of the horizontal empennage may be optimized, Bremond explained. Earlier in the program, customer advisory meetings influenced the design. The cabin was significantly reworked to accommodate all 16 passengers more safely and more comfortably. This translated into a longer, narrower fuselage and fewer seats per row to make egress easier. “The first helicopter on the drawing board was quite different,” Bertling commented. The EC175 is mainly targeted at the oil and gas offshore market.
For series production, long-lead items will begin manufacture in the second quarter of this year. Avicopter will start production of the airframe in the second half of the year. The production rate will start “low,” Bertling said, because Eurocopter wants to avoid potential teething problems being spread too widely. Eventually, the EC175 production rate is targeted to be close to 30 aircraft per year.
The EC175 is powered by a pair of Pratt & Whitney Canada (P&WC) PT6C-67E engines, which supply 1,775 shp each. Bertling revealed that despite some challenges that risked delays in delivery of the engines, P&WC made “tremendous efforts” and eventually delivered the engines on time. Bertling said while the PT6 would remain the “basic engine” for Avicopter’s Z15, Avicopter and Turbomeca are discussing the launch of a new engine program. AIN learned it could be based on the Ardiden turboshaft. The EC175 is a 50-50 joint effort with Harbin, China-based Avicopter, which calls its program the Z15.
EASA certification of the EC175 is pegged for the second half of next year. The first delivery should take place in the second half of 2012. The long gap between the two milestones can be explained by the number of options–more than 40–on the first production example. Every option has to be certified. PT1 is already flying with a functional air-conditioning system, which usually occurs at a later stage.
Meanwhile, Eurocopter is attempting to convert the letters of intent received for 114 EC175s into firm orders.
Ever Seen a Super Puma Perform a Loop?
An EC225 Super Puma with test pilot Jacques Lara in the right seat performed two loops during a flying display in Marignane on December 17 to celebrate the EC175’s inception into the Eurocopter family. Such aerobatic maneuvers were known to be possible only with Tiger attack helicopters and MBB BO105 light twins. “I hope I won’t see that too often,” Eurocopter CEO Lutz Bertling said.