Almost three years after the H130 (formerly known as the EC130T2) entered service with sightseeing operators in North America, Airbus Helicopters has delivered one of the helicopters to an aerial work specialist, Switzerland’s Air Zermatt. The upgraded light single is thus becoming a credible alternative in the Airbus product line to the H125 (AS350B3e Ecureuil/AStar) for sling-load and other mountain operations. However, according to its promoters, the higher acquisition cost can be justified only if the operator also uses the H130 in more lucrative applications such as passenger transportation.
Previously, the EC130B4 was aimed at sightseeing tour companies, while the more rugged AStar was Airbus’s only light single targeted at utility operations. Airbus design engineers endeavored to combine the best of each when they had the H130 on the drawing board. Nevertheless, “if you use your helicopter for aerial work 80 or 90 percent of the time, without carrying passengers, you’d do better to choose the H125,” Benoît Terral, Airbus Helicopters marketing manager for aerial work applications, told AIN. He pointed out the difference between the H125’s and the H130’s price tags–$440,000 to $550,000–and the price sensitivity of aerial work operators.
The H130 is now as capable as the H125, itself long seen as having set the standard in aerial work. Featuring an upgraded gearbox and a new Turbomeca Arriel 2D engine, the H130 provides 10 percent more power than the previous EC130 version. Performance improvements include a higher mtow (5,500 pounds or 6,700 pounds when carrying external loads) and a speed increase of up to 10 knots.
Operator Reports Strong Performance
Air Zermatt has a significant business in commercial passenger transportation, particularly tours around the Matterhorn. CEO Gerold Biner expressed satisfaction with the newly delivered helicopter. “We did a few sling-load operations and were surprised by the good behavior,” he told AIN. The H130’s performance is better than shown in flight manual charts and as good as, or even better than, the H125’s, according to Biner.
The main reason is that the Arriel 2D, common to both rotorcraft, produces the full 952 shp of rated power on the H130 versus 847 shp on the H125, which more than offsets the H130’s higher weight. “A Fenestron tail rotor can deliver more anti-torque power than a conventional one,” Terral explained. The added power also eliminates the sensitivity to crosswinds and turbulence that comes with a shrouded tail rotor, he said. However, with Fenestron control, the pilot does have to “work a bit more with the pedals,” said Biner.
Terral emphasized the more ergonomic environment for the pilot. With passenger transportation in mind, the designers of the H130 moved the pilot seat from right to left, which required relocating the collective pitch control to fit between the left front door and the pilot. In other models, the collective is usually located between two of the front seats, exposing this vital control to potentially hazardous passenger interference such as accidentally dropped cameras.
The idea of moving the pilot seat came from operators that fly in the Grand Canyon area. For aerial work, putting the pilot in the left seat means he can lean to the nearest window without stretching his left arm to keep hold of the collective. Biner said it takes a few hours for the pilot to get used to flying in the left seat.
The H130 aerial work configuration, however, was delayed by the design of the cargo hook. Initially expected in late 2013, certification was eventually received in May this year. When its load is released, the hook automatically transitions to a forward position, which maintains fuel tank crash resistance (the crash-resistant tank is standard equipment on the H130). The cargo sling system can carry 3,300 pounds, more than the aircraft’s empty weight.
Other standard safety features on the H130 include energy-absorption seats for all occupants (available only for the two front seats on an AStar) and a redundant hydraulic system (optional on the H125). The H125’s optional crashworthy tank is no longer crashworthy if used with a hook, as the H125’s hook design is different.
The roomier cabin of the H130 can accommodate one pilot and up to seven passengers. An active vibration control system has been adapted from that of the Super Puma series.