HAI Convention News

MD Helicopters is Manufacturing for the Future

 - January 29, 2020, 10:41 PM
MD Helicopters CEO Lynn Tilton held forth to a grateful Heli-Expo crowd that was eager to hear not only about the company’s new helicopter plans but also more about the maverick leader’s indomitable commitment to bringing her helicopter company back to life.

MD Helicopters is expanding its vertically integrated manufacturing capabilities as it prepares to return the MD 902 Notar-equipped twin helicopter to the market. The company has selected a Universal Avionics InSight flight deck, which will be single-pilot IFR capable.

“That contract is signed and the project is ongoing,” MD Helicopters CEO Lynn Tilton said on Tuesday at Heli-Expo 2020. “We hope we will have that aircraft with that cockpit for sale by the end of 2021.”

At its Mesa, Arizona headquarters, MD has adopted a three-line layout for single-engine helicopter manufacturing, with two lines for military ships and one line for commercial product. The MD 902 will be built on a separate twin-engine line, as will the MD 969 military version. “We are working on our manufacturing process innovation, as well as product innovation,” she said.

MD’s new COO, Chris Doran, is responsible to “get my 902 line up and the fuselage built,” Tilton said. “One of the things I should have done better was to get the 902 back on the market. I think a little bit of the delay is going to make this aircraft a much better aircraft, because we wouldn’t have had the Universal system in it, which is really state-of-the-art and safer and has more capability than anything we had considered before.”

Tilton also announced that MD has completed testing to increase the MD 530F’s maximum gross weight for commercial operators to the 3,350-pound allowance for law enforcement, up from the current 3,100 pounds. “I hope to have that certification in the next 30 to 60 days,” she said.

The Block 2 system on the 530G will be available this year, incorporating an Elbit helmet-mounted head-up display and the Israel company’s mission management system. “This is the same system that is part of the U.S. Army IDIQ,” Tilton said. “It is complex in its capability, but simple in its facility, which is what you want: less pilot workload, but still giving them what they want.” The MD 969 will offer the same avionics features as the 530G. “We’re really working with the Elbit family, both at Universal, which is their new company, but also with Elbit in Israel.”

The Block 2 Genesys Aerosystems avionics suite is certified and will be available in the MD 530/530G and MD 600. “By the end of this year, everything will have new technology and the new glass,” she said.

“With all the certifications we need to do, we’re trying to hire more in-house designated engineering representatives, so we can get things done more quickly,” Tilton said. 

For MD, vertical integration is critical for speeding up deliveries of helicopters. “Supply chain is complex,” she said, “and any one person can keep you from delivering an aircraft. So, the more you can control, the more you can do in-house and the more you’re in charge of your own destiny.

"Between sister company Heritage Aviation, which builds a lot of our parts, and MD, we do about 2,000 parts in-house. That’s why we decided to bring the 902 airframe into production at home so that we can do the same with the twin especially when we start really putting them out for the military and build in big numbers.”

Lynn Tilton’s 15 Years in the Helicopter Business

 Tilton summarized some of the highlights and challenges that she has faced during the past 15 years:

  • This is actually my 15th year standing at this podium. We’ve come a long way, and I always would have liked to have done more. And there’s still a lot to do. I showed up here in 2006 after buying the company, stood in front of the press, and they named me the 'Dominatrix of MD Helicopters' because I was wearing black leather, which was not a lot of what they’d seen with the CEOs of other OEMs. So I figured on this 15th anniversary—I don’t look quite as well as I did 15 years ago—but I bless you with my black leather because I’m still the “Dominatrix of MD Helicopters.” And believe me, my people need a lot of whipping. But I hug them, too, which I guess makes me an all-around dominatrix.
  • This week has taught us a lot of what to reflect on and what to be grateful for. I can’t start this press conference without mentioning how heartbroken I am over the accident that happened right in this area this week. It’s not good for this industry that I love so much. But we can’t forget the importance of helicopters and what we do, who it serves. The thing I love most about this company is my customers. I serve those who serve for the love of country, whether it’s the military or EMS services, whether it’s law enforcement or search-and-rescue. And we can never forget how important helicopters are to those who serve and what we do around the world. All we can do is make a commitment and be safer and safer to use the technology that is out there in every industry to try to make these aircraft more safe.
  • I’m blessed to be part of the automotive industry, where we’re building autonomous cars, and using all kinds of cameras and lidar and radar. We can build cocoons around each helicopter—it’s one of things we have to do to enhance their safety, as well as just to continue to develop the technology in our cockpits. So, it was hard to come here this week in California to talk about my beloved company and the importance of flight and helicopters, but you know, we have to balance the sadness with the greatness of these aircraft and how they serve those who serve around the world. We have to continue to advance these aircraft because there are certain missions that can’t be done any other way.