Airbus Helicopters (Booth C305) provided more details on Tuesday about its revised H145 medium twin. The model will be designated H145D3 with EASA certification anticipated in first-quarter 2020, with FAA validation to follow approximately 90 days thereafter. Initial deliveries will be in EMS configuration, followed by those for law enforcement and those are estimated for the third quarter of 2020
The company plans to transition from the current H145 model, the D2, to the D3 throughout 2020 and end D2 production by the end of that year, according to Alex Humpert, program head for the H145. He said the upgrade was being made in response to customer input.
Humpert provided additional details of the upgraded H145 model, which features a new, lightweight, foldable, five-bladed main rotor-system, as well as full-authority digital engine control (Fadec), lower empty weight, and increased useful load. He said the upgrades will be available as a factory-supplied upgrade for existing H145 owners and that they would be credited for the trade-in of their replaced H145D2 components based on condition. The upgrade, which would take approximately 220 manhours to complete, will not be available for BK117 or EC145 variants, however.
Humpert also said that the new foldable main blade system on the D3 takes only 10 minutes to stow/deploy, making it ideal for hangar or shipboard storage scenarios. All blades fold backward within the wingspan of the horizontal stabilizer by simply removing one bolt from each blade. The avionics will provide a guide as to where to position the cyclic and collective before blade folding begins, Humpert said.
He gave more color on the program, saying it started in 2016 as part of EU-funded Clean Sky program and was spawned from the Bluecopter technology demonstrator designed to show noise reduction and performance efficiency. A test aircraft started flying in 2017 and has accumulated 150 flight hours. A second test aircraft will join the program soon, and a flight-test program of more than 400 hours is planned. Kawasaki officially joined the program in 2018.
Compared to the D2, the D3 has a slightly smaller main rotor disk, from 36 feet to 35.4 feet, and a 330-pound increase in useful load. The new five-bladed main rotor system is lighter and less maintenance intense.
The upgrade kit consists of the new composite five-bladed main rotor blades, a transmission kit consisting of rotor mast, swashplate, scissors, control rods with associated assembly, oil cooler, and rotor brake, an additional electrical hydraulic pump whose sole function is to test the hydraulic controls during preflight checks, the Helionix software, a new forward cross-tube, and modification/tuning of the horizontal stabilizer. It deletes the 3-Hz landing gear dampers and the light active vibration control system found on the D2.
It comes standard with a wireless airborne communications system (wACS) that provides Wi-Fi to the cockpit, import navigation and mission databases from tablets, establish automatic connections via Wi-Fi or cell, automatically export data from previous flights, generate flight reports, launch automatic downloads, and export a previous flight’s data.
Aside from its lightweight design and stowability, the new rotor system has numerous advantages over the legacy design, key elements of which date back to the MBB BO105 of the 1960s that featured a titanium, oil-filled main rotor head with bearings. The new bearingless design has no rotor head, requires no oil, no grease, and very little maintenance. Humpert said the new rotor system delivers demonstrably improved ride comfort as well.
The H145 already has attracted several new aircraft and aircraft retrofit orders that were announced this week. The Ukrainian Ministry of Interior has decided to change eight of its 10 H145s on order to the five-bladed upgrade. These helicopters will be used for law enforcement missions. This Ukrainian H145 order is part of a larger deal that includes 24 H135s and 21 H225s.
New Zealand VIP and charter operator Advanced Flight will be the launch customer of the ACH145 version of the upgrade. The new aircraft is scheduled to be delivered in mid-2020. The Norwegian Air Ambulance Foundation is the launch EMS customer for the new H145. The foundation is the parent of the Norwegian Air Ambulance Services (NOLAS), which currently operates seven Airbus H135s and eight H145s from 12 bases throughout Norway, as well as four H135s in Denmark. The new aircraft will replace an EC145 and will be delivered in mid-2020.
Swiss Air Rescue Rega said it would retrofit its entire fleet of seven H145s with the five-blade upgrade package, making it the launch customer for the retrofit upgrade. Heinz Leibundgut, Swiss Rega’s chief pilot, said the upgrade would be of “great benefit for our air rescue operation, where every additional kilogram [of payload] is crucial, especially in challenging environments like the Alps.”