Airbus Helicopters plans to begin offering the new H160 medium twin to prospective customers and possibly signing letters of intent (LOIs) here at the Heli-Expo show. Both development and gearing up for production are taking place at the company’s headquarters in Marignane, France. Entry into service is scheduled for 2018.
Eager to see LOIs signed, H160 program chief Bernard Fujarski said the program is mature enough to enter this new phase. Almost all the milestones set for 2015 were met, although the first flight of the second prototype (PT2) did not happen until January this year, a delay due to paperwork, according to Fujarski. Both the dynamic helicopter zero (DHC0) and the system helicopter zero (SHC0) ground testbeds are said to have helped a lot in achieving program maturity.
As a result, the monthly utilization of the two prototypes has increased by 20 percent compared to Airbus’s previous development program, at a combined 12 to 14 hours. The company expected to reach the 100-hour mark by the start of Heli-Expo. PT1 flights will be suspended in March, as Turbomeca Arrano engines will replace the Pratt & Whitney Canada PW210Es initially installed. A third prototype (PT3) is to join the test effort early in 2017.
The H160’s aerodynamic configuration has proved itself, Fujarski said. The first 20 hours were flown without the autopilot, but controlling the aircraft was deemed “easy,” thanks to “natural decoupling between the axes.” The biplane stabilizer is performing as expected, he added. The fenestron shrouded tailrotor is working even better, needing slightly less power than calculated. Maximum speed was 182 knots, well over the Vne, which will be close to 170 knots.
To improve CG management, electrical equipment has been moved from the rear section to the nose. PT3 will be the first one with the new electrical equipment configuration.
Weight is under close monitoring, “especially during these days when we are moving from prototypes to serial production,” Fujarski said. Mtow is to be confirmed by year-end, between 5.5 and 6 metric tons (12,100 to 13,200 pounds).
Construction of the first production H160 will start next year. This year will see the final assembly of the first pre-production example. Inspired by the automotive sector to ensure the design smoothly translates into manufacturing, Airbus Helicopters will use the “ring” technique. The designer of a part, the person responsible for the assembly and a quality control expert will be physically isolated in a circle on the production floor. They will thus be able to correct a problem without being disturbed by anyone else.
The final assembly line (FAL) in Marignane is to be delivered as a turnkey factory by Latécoère and it will feature a moving flow line. “We will push the button at aircraft number 12 or 13,” Fujarski said. The FAL is being designed for a maximum annual production rate of 50.
To reduce the lead time at the FAL level, Airbus has devised a new production scheme. So-called main component assemblies, complete and tested, will be shipped to the FAL. For example, technicians at the company's Donauworth, Germany plant will equip the central and front fuselage sections with harnesses, flight controls, etc. Manufacturing hours will not be drastically reduced but, at around 18 weeks, the final assembly lead time will be halved compared to Dauphin manufacturing, according to Airbus.
EASA certification is pegged for 2018 and FAA validation is expected to happen six months later. Both DHC0 and SHC0 will be used for further substantiation.