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Helicopters 2017: What OEMs are Developing

Posted 6 years 87 days ago ago by Admin


With a new year comes a hunger for the new and different. Rotorcraft Pro presents a fresh look at which helicopters and equipment are under development as we start 2017.

Airbus Helicopters

Given the range of new rotorcraft that Airbus Helicopters has under development, 2017 promises to be a busy time for the company. For example, the twin-engine H160 helicopter, which was unveiled at HAI 2016, has already logged more than 280 flight hours on two prototypes. Since the H160 is the company’s first full composite civil helicopter, this is no small achievement. A third prototype will start flying in 2017. Furthermore, Airbus Helicopters has officially “validated” the H160’s aeromechanical configuration, and put it through hot-weather testing. Cold-weather testing will occur in 2017.


“In September 2016, the first customer pilots flew the aircraft,” said Jean-Brice Dumont, Airbus Helicopters’ executive vice president of engineering. “Their testimonies were extremely positive on all aspects of the H160, including the breakthrough design with its modern feel, its low sound and vibration levels, its stability, and its excellent visibility.”


If all goes to plan, the H160 will enter service in 2019. “Its configurations include offshore transportation, business and private aviation, emergency medical services, public services, and commercial passenger transport,” Dumont said.


Meanwhile, Airbus Helicopters is working on its high-speed, compound helicopter, which combines an overhead rotor and two front-facing propellers for maximum speed. The company validated the design last year, and is now working on building a prototype for first flight in 2019.


“The high-speed, compound helicopter draws upon our earlier X3 demonstrator,” said Dumont. “It brings the compound aerodynamic configuration closer to an operational design, in our pursuit of increased speed, better cost-efficiency, and dramatic reductions of emissions and emitted noise.”


On the unmanned aircraft side, Airbus Helicopters and partner DCNS have joined to build France’s new VSR700 aerial vehicle. Airbus Helicopters is responsible for designing and developing the VSR700 and the “see and avoid” technologies that will help the drone fly self-directed missions in real time.


Finally, Airbus Helicopters is working on the concept for its X6 heavy helicopter, which is aimed at the civilian market into the 2020s. “The X6 will benefit from the full Airbus Helicopters’ DNA, with commonalities with the recently delivered H175, as well as the recently unveiled H160,” Dumont said. “Its positioning will be consistent with the new evolution in market expectations, as well as the current and near-future competitive landscape.”


Bell Helicopter


Bell Helicopter development efforts will continue on three key rotorcraft in 2017: Bell 505 Jet Ranger X (light single), Bell 525 Relentless (super-medium twin), and Bell V-280 Valor (military tiltrotor).    


The Bell 505 is aimed at the corporate and parapublic markets. It offers a highly configurable cabin with room for five occupants, 125 knots maximum cruising speed, and a state-of-the-art Garmin G1000 glass avionics suite.

In anticipation of a yet to be announced delivery date, the company has moved Bell 505 production to its plant in Mirabel, Quebec, where the three Bell 505 prototypes were assembled and flight-tested. The Mirabel production line “is up and running,” said Mitch Snyder, president and CEO of Bell Helicopter. “We are nearing certification for the 505,” he noted. In fact, Bell received Transport Canada certification for the 505 in late December 2016.

Regarding the Bell 525, it is designed for the corporate/VIP, HEMS, and parapublic markets. It has space for up to 20 people, 162 knots maximum cruise speed with a range of 570 nautical miles, and an ARC Horizon flight deck. However, its development has not been without tragedy. According to a preliminary NTSB report:

“On July 6, 2016, about 1148 central daylight time, an experimental Bell 525 helicopter, N525TA, broke up inflight and impacted terrain near Italy, Texas. The two pilots onboard were fatally injured and the helicopter was destroyed. The flight originated from Arlington, Texas, as a developmental flight test and was conducted under the provisions of 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed at the time of the accident.”

[Note: Rotorcraft Pro’s thoughts and prayers go out to the two test pilots and their families. The selfless bravery such pilots consistently display in advancing rotorcraft flight benefits us all.]


Bell Helicopter told Rotorcraft Pro that flight testing has been suspended for the 525, but “all non-flight related certification and program activities are continuing, such as sustainment planning, engagement with certification authorities, component testing, major structural and dynamics test, upgrades to our systems integration lab, and production improvements.”

At this time, Bell Helicopter does not have an estimate as to when flight testing might resume, nor does it yet know the length of delay in certification or first deliveries. “We remain committed to the 525 program and are taking this process very seriously, which will result in a safe, reliable, and high performance helicopter when it comes to market,” the company stated.

Regarding the Bell V-280, the company’s third-generation tiltrotor aircraft is scheduled to make its first flight sometime in 2017. With the ability to take off like a helicopter and fly like a twin-engine propellor airplane, the V-280 cruises at 280 knots and has a range of 500-800 nautical miles, depending on configuration and load. It can carry four crew members, and up to 14 passengers.

Leonardo Helicopters


It’s a new year and a new name: 2017 marks the first full year that AugustaWestland will conduct business under its new name of Leonardo Helicopters. This said, the company is still using “AW” in its model designations. This year, Leonardo is continuing development on the AW009, AW109 Trekker, and AW609.


According to the company, the AW009 is a single-engine, five-occupant helicopter

that offers low operating costs, modern technology, and day/night VFR flyability. It is suited for training, utility operations, and police/security multi-mission requirements.


Meanwhile, the Leonardo touts the AW109 Trekker as “the newest light, twin-engine helicopter in the 3-tonne class.” It is suited for training, utility, and aerial work operations that require best-in-class lifting capability, alongside superior range and performance.


Finally, the AW609 tiltrotor, according to the company, “combines the benefits of a helicopter and a fixed-wing aircraft into one aircraft.” It can comfortably carry up to nine people in a pressurized cabin at twice the speed and range typical of helicopters. The AW609 is designed for both private and commercial civil operators, government missions, and para-public roles.


The development status of these models varies. Leonardo states, “The FAA validation of the baseline AW009 is expected imminently. An upgraded version featuring a Rolls-Royce M250-C30P engine and Genesys avionics is expected to be certified by mid-2017.”

Regarding the AW109, as two Trekker prototypes were flown in 2016, development is ongoing towards certification, with over 20 units sold with firm orders.


The third AW609 prototype is to “begin full flight testing activities and is on track to undergo icing trials this winter as previously scheduled. Certification is anticipated at the end of 2018, with deliveries to begin in 2019,” states Leonardo.

Marenco Swisshelicopter


In development since 2009, Marenco Swisshelicopter’s SKYe SH09 multi-purpose light, single-engine composite helicopter is closing in on its 2018 delivery date. The composite SKYe SH-09 can carry five to eight people, has rear clamshell doors, and a flexibly configurable large cabin.


The first SKYe SH09 prototype (P1) flew in 2014, and conducted a number of flight tests in 2015. P1 was then grounded, while Marenco flew the P2 prototype that incorporated lessons learned from the initial P1 tests. A third SKYe SH09 prototype, P3, is being readied for flight.


“We continue to expand the flight test envelope for P2 with regards to speed and altitude,” said Marenco Swisshelicopter COO Mathias Sénès. “Prototype 2 has achieved a wide range of flight test activities at 97 percent of the maximum takeoff weight of 2,650 kg. Successful completion of low-speed flight maneuvers, both sideways and rearwards, and significant expansion of the forward speed flight envelope have kept the test crews busy.”


Coming into 2017, “the SKYe SH09 is fully engaged into the EASA type certification process, Sénès said. “While P2 continues flight testing, P3 will be arriving in the first part of 2017 to start testing and prove its superiority.” If all goes well, the first deliveries are planned for 2018.

MD Helicopters


Moving into 2017, MD Helicopters Inc. (MDHI) is continuing the development of its civilian MD 969 and military MD 6XX helicopters.

The MD 969 is a twin-engine aircraft with an all-glass cockpit, improved NOTAR performance, and upgraded interior features. An upgraded/modernized version of the MD 902, the MD 969 achieved its first flight in April 2016. “The MD 969, like the MD 900/902, will be a preferred aircraft for EMS/air medical, search and rescue, law enforcement, and VIP/VVIP markets,” said MDHI CEO Lynn Tilton.


The single-engine MD 6XX will feature the RR C47E engine, newly designed high-performance rotor blades, improved maximum speed, and extended range over existing MDHI military helicopters. It will also offer a MGTOW of 5,500 lbs.


“The MD 6XX will be the foundation airframe for our next generation of light scout attack helicopters. With a higher MGTOW, improved speed, and a larger cabin, we also expect the MD 6XX to become the premier airframe for SWAT, special forces, and urban police aviation units,” said Tilton.

Both the MD 969 and MD 6XX are meeting internal development timelines and are expected to enter into the market over the next 18 to 24 months. While these helicopters are under development, MDHI is making improvement to its current stable of light twin- and single-engine helicopters in both the civilian and military sectors. “Following the twin-engine cockpit upgrade, all MDHI single-engine platforms are being transitioned to offer full glass cockpits as standard features,” said Tilton. “The MD 600N, in addition to the upgraded cockpit, now also offers both upgraded EMS and VIP interiors, and all MD 530F models purchased in 2017 and beyond will feature a maximum gross takeoff weight increase to 3,350 lbs.”

Robinson Helicopter Company


Getting even more capability out of its five-seat R66 is the ongoing mission for Robinson Helicopter Company. It comes with a two-bladed rotor system, a T-bar cyclic, and a Rolls Royce RR300 turbine engine. Although they have no new helicopters in development, they are working on certification of the R66 Newscopter, and an R66 with a cargo hook installation that allows the pilot to fly in the left seat. “We plan for FAA certification in the first quarter 2017,” said company president Kurt Robinson.


The OEM also plans to update avionics and accessories. “For example, we are working on a lithium battery for the R66,” Robinson said.

Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation


Lockheed Martin subsidiary Sikorsky has three helicopter platforms under development in 2017. These are the HH-60W Combat Rescue Helicopter (CRH), the CH-53K King Stallion helicopter, and the VH-92A Presidential helicopter.


The HH-60W CRH is an advanced version of the military UH-60M Black Hawk. It is designed for combat search-and-rescue (CSAR) missions, and offers a larger cabin and increased internal fuel storage for greater range. It also has two General Electric T700-GE-701D turbo-shaft engines, composite wide-chord main rotor blades, fatigue/corrosion-resistant machined aero-structures, and an advanced tactical mission kit with multiple sensors, data links, defensive systems, and other sources of intelligence information for CSAR crews.


Having passed its Air Vehicle Preliminary Design Review (PDR) in May 2016, the HH-60W program is now moving ahead as scheduled. “The successful Air Vehicle PDR confirms the program is on the right track and marks a significant step for the CRH program,” said Tim Healy, Sikorsky’s CRH program director. “This successful PDR moves us closer to bringing this vital aircraft to the warfighter.”


Sikorsky is currently building four HH-60W helicopters and six aircrew/maintenance training systems under a $1.2 billion Engineering Manufacturing & Development (EMD) contract with the USAF. Eventually, 112 HH-60Ws will replace the Air Force’s aging HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopters.


The Sikorsky CH-53K King Stallion heavy lift helicopter, which is being developed for the U.S. Marine Corps, provides substantially more lifting power and performance than the Marine’s current CH-53E fleet. To this end, a CH-53K King Stallion has successfully completed an external lift of a 27,000-pound payload at the Sikorsky Development Flight Test Center in West Palm Beach, Florida. The new aircraft has also achieved flight speeds exceeding 140 knots.


Three CH-53K prototypes are currently in flight tests. All are equipped with modern glass cockpits and fly-by-wire flight controls. The U.S. Department of Defense has purchased 200 CH-53Ks, with four scheduled to be delivered to the Marines in 2017.


The VH-92A Presidential Helicopter passed its Critical Design Review (CDR), signalling that Sikorsky can now assemble, test, and evaluate the new platform. The VH-92A is based on the company’s S-92, and will consist of 21 operational and two test aircraft. “This milestone is an important achievement for our program and demonstrates Sikorsky and NAVAIR (Naval Air Systems Command) are well aligned,” said Spencer Elani, Sikorsky director of the VH-92A helicopter program. “We got here by completing several milestones on or ahead of schedule. We are committed to staying on that track as we head into the building phase of the program.”

OEM_2017_01_AirbusH160.jpg  OEM_2017_02_AurbusVSR700.jpg  OEM_2017_03_Bell505.jpg  OEM_2017_04_Bell525.jpg  OEM_2017_05_BellV-280.jpg  OEM_2017_06_Leonardo_AW009.jpg  OEM_2017_07_Leonardo_AW109_Trekker.jpg  OEM_2017_08_Leonardo_AW609.jpg  OEM_2017_09_MarencoSKYe-SH-09.jpg  OEM_2017_13_RobinsonR66.jpg  OEM_2017_14_RobinsonR66.jpg  OEM_2017_16_SikorskyCH53K.jpg  OEM_2017_11_MD.jpg