Heli-Expo Headlines

In addition to Bell’s unveiling of the 525 Relentless at the Helicopter Association International (HAI) Heli-Expo 2012 on February 12 at the Dallas Convention Center (the Vertiflite cover story), the rest of the industry also saved up their announcements to release at the event. Many of these are summarized below, with links to news releases or further information. The AHS photo gallery from Heli-Expo can be found at www.vtol.org/qr/HAI2012.

AgustaWestland and British helicopter operator, Bond Aviation Group, signed an agreement for up to 15 aircraft, including the AW139, AW169 and AW189 for offshore oil and gas support, search and rescue, and emergency services, as well as support to emerging offshore wind-farms. The three aircraft share common cockpits, design philosophy, safety features and maintenance concepts. AgustaWestland announced sales to Life Flight Network for 15 AW119Ke helicopters, Gulf Helicopters for 15 AW189s and four AW139s in Japan. The company also noted that it has sold two examples each of its AW139, AW169 and AW189 to Exclases Holdings Ltd. in Russia. Lease Corporation International also signed a large agreement for the purchase of the three types in a contract with options worth more than €300M (approx. $400M). The company had previously announced that it had recorded more than 200 orders in 2011 (just above 2010’s orders), about half of which were for the AW139.

The company’s new subsidiary, AgustaWestland Tilt Rotor Company (AWTRC), conducted a flight demonstration of its AW609 tiltrotor at its facilities in nearby Arlington, Texas. The two prototype have accumulated over 650 flight hours, validating 85% of the flight test points. The AWTRC has a staff of 250 – primarily in Cascina Costa, Italy – providing engineering and flight test support, prototype assembly and program management; its Arlington location can accommodate a staff of up to 150.

Bell Helicopter primarily focused on its new 525 news at Heli-Expo, but did announce that it had delivered its first 407GX to Mexico-based Avemex Group for executive transport duties. The light single-engine aircraft features the Garmin G1000HTM integrated glass flight deck for improved situational awareness, operational capability and safety.

Enstrom Helicopter Corporation announced that it had signed a contract for an additional 28 TH-480B training helicopters for the Japanese Ground Self-Defence Force (JGSDF). This follows a two-year evaluation of two 480Bs to replace the 45 Kawasaki-built OH-6s currently used by the JGSDF.

Eurocopter, celebrating its 20th anniversary, continued to fulfill its strategy of developing at least one new helicopter every year. Unveiled at Heli-Expo was the EC130 T2, with more powerful Arriel 2D engines, an upgraded main gearbox, active vibration control, an updated cockpit and crashworthiness improvements. Eurocopter notes that 70% of the airframe structure has been modified, and that the new aircraft provides “optimized performance, comfort and mission diversity.” The seven launch customers for the EC130 T2 purchased 105 aircraft. All total, Eurocopter announced orders and commitments for 191 helicopters at the show, including large numbers of EC135s, EC145 T2s, EC175s and EC225s.

In other news, Eurocopter revealed more about its X3 and X4 aircraft. The compound X3 demonstrator was expected to begin flying again by the end of February. Eurocopter plans to conduct flight demonstrations in the United States this summer, including flights for the U.S. Army. Meanwhile, the X4 – a replacement for the 5 ton Dauphin – is expected to be implemented in two phases: the first would fly in 2015 and the second in 2020. The second iteration would feature Sagem fly-by-wire controls, low noise blades and other innovations. Eurocopter CEO Lutz Bertling also stated that all new aircraft launches will include the option of a second engine, with Pratt & Whitney being tapped for the X4.

Kaman Aerospace unveiled its new Small Composite Rotor Blade II (SCRB-II), aimed at the A/MH-6 and the MD 500 family. The lightweight composite blade is expected to provide significant improvements in hover, climb performance and speed. The blade is currently in flight testing and initial production for Special Operations AH-6 helicopters. Kaman also announced that it has applied Hontek erosion protection coatings to more than 2,500 Black Hawk rotor blades, and that the Kaman/Lockheed K-MAX Unmanned Aerial Truck has been performing well in Afghanistan.

Newcomer Marenco Swisshelicopter again exhibited a mock-up of its SKYe SH09 light turbine helicopter. The company announced that construction of the prototype of its 6,170 lb, eight-seat aircraft was in progress, with deliveries to begin in 2015. Marenco says it has a total of 15 orders.

Robinson Helicopter noted that its production in 2011 more than doubled over 2010 to 356 aircraft, and had still developed a backlog of 640 helicopters. The company has delivered over 100 R66 turbine helicopters to date.

Russian Helicopters, which now encompasses all Russian helicopter business, including Kamov, Kazan and Mil, increased production from 214 in 2010 to 262 aircraft in 2011, and is expecting 15% growth per year. The company is updating its production equipment and expanding its product range to compete in the global commercial market. With over 7,200 Russian helicopters in 110 countries, the company also wants to improve the quality of its aftermarket service support. 

Sikorsky Aircraft CEO Jeff Pino noted that the 450 UH-60M Black Hawks delivered have flown a total of 7 million flight hours; the high time aircraft has accumulated 2,000 flight hours. 337 MH-60R/S Seahawks have also been delivered with over a half million total flight hours. Sikorsky received $1.1B in contracts in 2011, with agreements in work for an additional $5B, and was competing for a further $8B. Pino noted that Sikorsky plans to focus on international military sales to make up for the U.S. defense drawdown. Sikorsky was also looking at the market potential of a “super medium” class aircraft. British helicopter operator, Bond Aviation Group, ordered 16 Sikorsky S-92 helicopters for offshore use, the largest ever single order of S-92s. Sikorsky has sold over 150 of the aircraft, which have accrued 380,000 flight hours worldwide since entering service in 2004.