Eastern Switzerland-based Kopter Group's Pre-Series 4 (PS4), expected to fly by mid-year, will incorporate the “representative” final design of the company's new, clean-sheet single-engine SH09 helicopter. Kopter (Booth 6845) is revealing the features of the design at Heli-Expo via a full-scale mockup in seven-passenger configuration with 3D animations for other mission packages.
Kopter’s HAI exhibit will also enable pilots to test the virtual reality (VR)-based training system in development by VRM.
“We are close to finalizing the configuration of the to-be-certified aircraft,” CEO Andreas Löwenstein told AIN in a preshow interview. "We have progressed very well with the design. We have progressed very well with the flight-testing operations.”
Kopter is targeting EASA and FAA certification by the end of 2020. “We are still convinced we can do it,” Löwenstein said, though he acknowledged that approval could slip into 2021.
“We have a very strong feeling from the market; people are really expecting this aircraft to arrive,” he added. “We have sold out roughly three years of production. And despite that, people order aircraft for years like 2024 and 2025, which is pretty amazing for a brand new aircraft.”
A major modification in the fuel system, with less fuel under the floor, has allowed Kopter to increase the cabin size of the SH09, which can now accommodate eight passengers and a pilot in transport configurations. More glass area will allow improved views for tourism passengers. For other missions, such as EMS, noted Löwenstein, “you have more breathing space to move around the patient; it will be extremely easy for the nurses and doctors on board to reach the patient from head to toe." Medical or law enforcement personnel “can take more equipment or bulky things on board. Space in a helicopter is always welcome, and now everybody gets more space for free.”
PS4 and a fifth flight-test model, PS5, will incorporate a gearbox from a new supplier after the quality of the initial supplier’s upper-housing casting was deemed unacceptable. During tests in Italy of the first three prototype aircraft, “we were very much limited with regard to the flight envelope and to the maneuver scope: speed, torque, altitude,” Löwenstein said. The changeover took about eight months. “We have tested it, and now we are flying it, which means we no longer have any limitations.”
Promoted as having the “performance of a twin-engine at the cost of a single-engine,” the 2.5-tonne-class SH09 with a 1,020-shp Honeywell HTS 900 turboshaft engine will have a range of more than 800 km (432 nm), or five hours of endurance, with a top speed of 260 km per hour (140 kt). Maximum takeoff weight (external) will be 3,000 kg (6,614 lb) with a sling-load capacity of 1,500 kg (3,300 lb).
Configurations available include six, seven, and eight passengers, four seats and a stretcher for EMS, or two standard pallets for cargo operations. Claimed to offer the largest “one-volume” cabin in its category, the SH09 is equipped with clamshell doors on both sides, plus a rear-access cargo hold under the tail boom for up to 10 suitcases.
"From the beginning," Löwenstein emphasized, "we will come with mission equipment, which allows our customers to fulfill their missions. We have a roadmap in which we will build up equipment baskets. We have EMS, tourism, passenger transport, and utility customers who already have mission equipment in their contracts.” Kopter Group’s “competence center” in Germany is developing “safety-relevant” mission equipment, with the balance provided by partners. Gear for offshore oil-and-gas operators is not yet on offer, “but I’m very confident within the coming weeks we will be there.”
Aircraft production will initially be in a provisional facility in Mollis, about 70 km southeast of Zurich. The facility could produce 20 helicopters a year, ramping up to 40. “But we have to plan already for the step after,” explained Löwenstein. “We are working with industrial architects and production specialists in order to shape the facility. We hope to start building by the end of this year, which will allow up to triple-digit production.”
The plan is to maintain control in Switzerland of “dynamic autonomous airframes,” including gearboxes and driveshafts, and then ship the kits for final assembly in Lafayette, Louisiana, for the North American market, Asia (Kopter signed an MoU in October with Korea Aerospace Industries regarding assembly and customization), and potentially Brazil, which is the third-largest market for single-engine helicopters.
The company has announced firm orders for 70 SH09s and anticipates “another double-digit figure of orders” in negotiation, some of which should be revealed in Anaheim.
Distributors on board include Swiss Helikopter Norway; AviFlex in Central America; Gualter Helicopters, Brazil; Safomar, South America; Heliflite, Oceania; and Aerofacility, Japan. The next territories to be named include the UK and Russia.
Training for the SH09 will incorporate a virtual-reality-with-motion device from Swiss startup VRM AG. Its devices for the Robinson R22 and Airbus H145 have generated positive feedback, including from EASA regulators who are developing training guidelines for goggle-based devices. VRM claims a student pilot can hover during a first flight in the aircraft after only eight hours in their simulator. They also boast that the sim “allows [students] to practice vortex ring state recovery procedures in different flight situations, even close to the ground.”
“One point we strongly put forward is safety,” Löwenstein said repeatedly. “The authorities are extremely sensitive with regard to this. From the beginning, we have focused not only on the technical aspects of the aircraft but also the crash-resistant fuel system, individual crash-resistant seats, bird-strike resistance, IFR-ready Garmin G3000H avionics suite, etc. And one major aspect of safety is training.”
“You will be able to do more with virtual-reality simulators, a new category of devices between the flight-training device (FTD) and full-flight simulators, particularly for the mission-training hours,” the Kopter CEO added. He suggested such lower-cost training devices could be located “in all the spots where major fleets are existing.” VR simulators might also be circulated to multiple operators locations.
Kopter also plans its own pilot and maintenance training academy in Switzerland.