In aviation, like most other industries, success breeds regulation. The bigger an industry becomes, the more the government perceives the need to regulate it, often citing reasons such as safety, unfair competition and environmental protection. Yet, in typical Darwinian fashion, most industries adapt–or die. In aviation, hush kits quiet noisier jet engines, airplanes are made RVSM compatible and helicopters are flown neighborly.
Helicopter manufacturers are exploring a number of technologies to reduce noise, both that perceived from the ground and inside the cabin. European manufacturers are working on several demonstration programs to reduce noise by changing the helicopter’s airframe dynamics.
In the peek-a-boo world of Russian rotorcrafting (now you see the program, now you don’t), plans have been announced to finally go ahead with the Kamov Ka-62, a civil adaptation of the Ka-60 “Kasatka” military helo. An earlier attempt to market a civil variant of this 14,330-lb-mtow rotorcraft was abandoned some years ago. Now the president of the Russian Federation’s Far Eastern Federal Okrug (roughly analogous to a U.S.
Guimbal Hélicoptères has plans to take on the ubiquitous R22 in the training market. The company, launched by a former Eurocopter employee, has made headway, having secured orders from several European companies, including Eurocopter.
That new aircraft are often derived from earlier models is no surprise, but hybrids of two separate bloodlines are rare. The Eurocopter EC 145 medium twin, derived from the venerable BK 117 and the much newer EC 135, is one such hybrid. But unlike many mergers, particularly in the corporate world, this one actually works.
The first question to Marc Paganini, freshly appointed CEO of American Eurocopter (AEC), is the obvious one. And he answers with a grin: “No, I’m no relation to that other Paganini. I wish I were…” He was referring to 18th-century virtuoso violinist and composer Nicolo Paganini, famed throughout Europe in his day as a performer so hypnotically frenetic that ladies in his audiences swooned.
Eurocopter is considering introducing fiber placement for helicopter composite fuselage manufacturing as a way to replace manual lay-up and reduce costs by an estimated 20 to 25 percent. A research project has yielded the first EC 155 rear section (tailcone and fenestron vertical tail) made by fiber placement. Engineers are testing the part at the firm’s Marignane, France research and development facilities.
Bell Helicopter’s MAPL (modular affordable product line) tail-fan demonstrator took to the air at the OEM’s new XworX research center in Arlington, Texas, in July. A Bell 407 fitted with the 40-inch-diameter fenestron-like device lifted into a hover, performed several low-speed maneuvers, including pedal turns, and landed.
Last December’s agreement between Eurocopter and China for the codevelopment of a new medium-size helicopter, the EC 175 (known in China as the Z-15), marks a step change that raises Sino-European cooperation on helicopters to a new level.
Some two years after the Eurocopter EC 145 entered service, it seems customers have forgotten the problems that delayed the program and caused early operational difficulties. Instead, European helicopter emergency medical service (HEMS) providers focus on the positive: they say they like the spacious cabin, significant payload, low noise and the extensive certified equipment.