In just over a month, more than 20,000 rotorcraft enthusiasts will fill the halls of the Las Vegas Convention Center for four days of networking, learning and, every business hopes, buying of services, parts, accessories and helicopters. While the exhibit halls open on a Tuesday this year (10:30 a.m. on March 5), early activities begin with professional education courses starting on February 28. On March 3, heli hackers compete for prizes at the Helicopter Foundation International (HFI) scholarship fundraising golf tournament at the Desert Pines Golf Club, a Dye-designed pine tree-festooned beauty about 15 minutes northeast of the Las Vegas strip. The real action won’t be found at the golf course or in the casinos, but in the convention center, where Heli-Expo will swallow up 1.5 million sq ft of space, featuring more than 60 helicopters and 650-plus exhibitors.
For most attendees the show starts with the annual HAI Welcome Reception, this year planned to take place from 7 to 8:30 p.m. at the Encore at Wynn. The show kicks off on Tuesday morning with the HAI Annual Membership Meeting & Breakfast at the convention center starting at 8 a.m. Heli-Expo Silver Sponsor Sandel Avionics is hosting the breakfast and giving away two remote-controlled helicopters as door prizes.
In addition to educational and safety sessions, during the show the HFI is hosting three mentoring panels, for pilots, technicians and students. During the panels, experienced industry representatives will be available to answer questions and provide advice to industry newcomers. For more information, contact HAI’s Marty Pociask at (703) 302-8465 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
The historical helicopters scattered throughout the show are also an HFI effort, part of the Heritage of Helicopters display. And to help raise money for HFI efforts, the group is holding the Second Annual Fundraising Silent Auction at the Heli-Expo registration area. Funds help pay for HFI scholarships, the mentoring panels, HFI Heritage Series interviews with rotorcraft pioneers, the online rotorcraft aviation museum and international outreach programs. Anyone interested in donating items for the auction can contact Pociask.
In keeping with the Helicopter Association International (HAI) focus on safety training, this year’s Heli-Expo features the new HAI Rotor Safety Challenge. The Challenge is free for Heli-Expo attendees and exhibitors, and the idea is to attend at least six of more than 30 one-hour safety education sessions held between March 4 and 7. All who attend at least six sessions will receive a certificate of recognition. Sessions will cover flight operations, maintenance, safety culture/leadership and safety management.
Small Manufacturers Gear Up for Announcements
While there were some surprises at last year’s Heli-Expo, such as the unveiling of Bell’s new 525 Relentless, early buzz suggests that there isn’t much in the way of big program announcements this year. Bell is busy with all the heads-down engineering needed to bring a new helicopter to market, but parent company Textron has been aggressively supporting new products at its Cessna division, so perhaps Bell has some further news up its sleeve. Eurocopter plans to bring five helicopters to the show, including production versions of the new EC175 and EC145T2, which are making their U.S. debut and will be flown on demo tours.
This year much of the early action involves smaller helicopter manufacturers.
Scott’s Bell 47, which owns the Bell 47 type certificate and supports that helicopter, is exploring a turbine engine program using the Rolls-Royce RR300 engine. Meanwhile, the company plans to highlight at Heli-Expo that it has now received 70 percent of outstanding critical spare parts that previously weren’t available to the marketplace. Scott’s is also close to certifying the new Bell 47 instrument panel and will have on display a flight-test 47G-2A with the new panel, LED lighting and Oregon Aero interior. More information on the new composite main rotor blade program will be available at the Scott’s booth.
Enstrom Helicopter announced last month that it has been acquired by China’s Chongqing Helicopter Investment for an undisclosed price. (See article on page 50.) While Enstrom has focused much of its export efforts on Asia with some success in recent years–particularly in China, Japan and Thailand–and has expanded its workforce by 50 percent over the last 18 months, the company hasn’t been active in developing new models. It will be interesting to see what develops under Enstrom’s new ownership.
Robinson Helicopter comes to Heli-Expo after a year of rapid growth, with 2012 production at 517 helicopters, up 45 percent over 2011. (See article on page 50.) Robinson produced 191 turbine-powered R66s last year, 286 R44s and 40 R22s and expects to exceed those numbers this year. The R66 police package certified last year–with a standard Flir camera, fold-down color monitor, searchlight, dual audio controller and more–might lead to more law-enforcement sales, because the availability of military surplus helicopters is drying up rapidly.
In times when the market has few niches that haven’t been filled with new helicopter models, avionics and engine manufacturers inevitably work with helicopter modifiers and manufacturers to offer upgrade packages. This means the likelihood of more glass-panel packages for legacy helicopters.
Major avionics and engine manufacturers had no big revelations to discuss in advance of Heli-Expo, but there will be information about new products and developments from ongoing research.
Honeywell will release its annual rotorcraft forecast just before the show and will highlight technologies such as helicopter fleet tracking, connectivity and condition-based monitoring, the company noted, “and how these are providing helicopter pilots and operators access to real-time information, enhancing overall efficiencies and helping improve safety for pilots, passengers and operators alike.”
At the Rockwell Collins booth, the company plans to highlight work its researchers are conducting on very high-resolution synthetic vision. The higher-resolution product offers resolutions of as much as 1/3 arc second, compared with the 3 arc second resolution on the Rockwell Collins Fusion flight deck. A further extension of this technology marries synthetic vision and multifunction radar. “Rockwell Collins will fuse radar data with terrain and obstacle data to produce an integrated 3D view of the operational environment,” the company explained.
Garmin hinted that it will have new product announcements at Heli-Expo, but wouldn’t reveal its plans until the show opens. At the Garmin booth, visitors can try the new GTR com and GNC navcom radios that Garmin introduced last month (see article on page XX), among other Garmin products such as the G500H, G1000H and G5000H helicopter glass cockpits.
Heli-Expo, of course, is more than just new products and celebrates the tight-knit rotorcraft community’s efforts and accomplishments. On March 6, there is no better way to join the celebration than the annual Salute to Excellence Awards Dinner at the Encore at Wynn. Early-bird tickets are available for $75 for members or $90 for nonmembers.