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The Big OEM Update - 2016

Posted 7 years 85 days ago ago by Admin



Rotorcraft Pro predicted last year that 2015 would be an exciting time for helicopter development as new helicopters and rotorcraft-related products hit the market. Our prediction proved true. Now, based on what the industry’s leading helicopter OEMs have revealed to us, 2016 promises to be just as innovative. While some new models and updates will be on display later this year at Heli-Expo 2016, you don’t have to wait until then. Here’s an OEM recap of 2015 and a preview of what’s coming.



Last year AgustaWestland pushed ahead with advances to its AW139, new-generation AW169, and AW189 twin-turbine/medium helicopter platforms. The AW139's new 7 tonne variant kit was released to the market. It allows the AW139's standard 6.4 tonne maximum gross weight to be increased by 600 kilograms. This kit benefits operators with up to 700 kg of extra payload when combined with new baseline aircraft and kit improvements that are being introduced on new aircraft this year, giving a typical weight saving of 100 kg for an offshore configured aircraft. Existing AW139 operators are able to retrofit the 7 tonne increased gross weight kit to enhance their aircraft’s capabilities.

Meanwhile, the new-generation AW169 helicopter was certified last July by EASA, and delivery of the first production AW169s to customers has begun. The 4.6-tonne AW169 is the first all new aircraft in its weight category to enter the market in more than 30 years, setting new certification and safety standards while marking the operational readiness of the whole AgustaWestland family. “More than 150 AW169 helicopters have been ordered by customers around the world to date, including framework contracts and options, with over 20 orders for customers in Brazil alone,” said an AgustaWestland spokesperson. A second AW169 final assembly line is being established at the company’s Philadelphia facility. Deliveries from this plant will align with FAA certification, which is expected this summer.

The AW189 attained FAA certification last year, allowing the beginning of deliveries to U.S. customers. Currently about 20 AW189s are operating around the world, including in such challenging environments as the North Sea, Middle East, and Southeast Asia. Era Helicopters will be the first U.S. customer to operate the AW189 in the Gulf of Mexico.

Plans for this year are to continue the momentum from 2015. “We are expecting continued advancements in our existing product line, including full certification of the AW189’s ice protection system, and FAA certification of the AW169 as well,” said the spokesperson.

Then there is the AW609 TiltRotor. This third prototype will be relocated to Philadelphia to prepare for icing trials, as will the first flying prototype that had been based in Texas. The fourth prototype will also undergo assembly in Philadelphia.

The tragic October 2015 crash of AgustaWestland’s second prototype AW609, which killed two test pilots, has left the company without a test aircraft in Italy. “With regards to the AW609 TiltRotor anticipated certification date, Finmeccanica-AgustaWestland is fully committed to mitigating any delay that our recent tragic accident, and the subsequent investigation, might have on the program itself,” stated the company.

Nearly 60 orders have been placed for the AW609 to date, with VIP and utility configurations to be the first delivered to customers in 2018. The UAE Joint Aviation Command has confirmed their commitment to the program, by contracting for up to six AW609s (three firm orders, three optional orders) with deliveries to begin in 2019.

Airbus Helicopters


Last year saw Airbus Helicopters introduce the H160, the company’s next generation medium twin. Filling a previously empty slot between the H145 (formerly EC145) and H175 (formerly EC175), the H160 is the first new helicopter produced under the Airbus Helicopters name, as all other current H models are re-branded Eurocopters. The H160 can carry 12 passengers up to 120 nautical miles for oil and gas missions and cruise at 160 knots. It can also fly up to 450 nm with two pilots on board with a 20-minute reserve, making the aircraft ideal for public safety or search and rescue missions.


There’s more to the H160 than just being the first true Airbus Helicopter. “The H160 is also the first fully composite civil helicopter,” said Jean-Brice Dumont, Airbus Helicopters’ executive vice president of engineering. “Using composites instead of metal delivers an airframe that weighs less and is more robust and resistant to corrosion and fatigue, therefore it requires less maintenance,” he said.


In addition, the H160 has the largest ever Fenestron shrouded tail rotor, while the new Biplane Stabilizer uses a staggered placement of the dual-level interconnected stabilizers for more maneuverability and stability at slow speeds. The H160 is also the first Airbus Helicopters rotorcraft to use the company’s new Blue Edge main rotor blades. These blades cut exterior noise levels by 50 percent (3 dB) while allowing a payload increase of up to 100 kg in comparison to traditional rotor blades.


If 2015 was the year of the next generation H160, this current year and beyond will be the time of Airbus Helicopters’ next generation heavy X6 helicopter. Now in its concept phase, the X6 is aimed at high capacity oil and gas missions, plus SAR and VIP flights.


Both the H160 and X6 mark the company’s move from being a maker of rebranded Eurocopters to an innovator in new rotorcraft platforms. This signals Airbus Helicopters’ intention to stake out and hold turf on helicopter technology’s cutting edge. “Our expertise and continued investment in new technologies will keep providing added-value products and services to our customers, with safety remaining the focus in all we do,” said Dumont. For example, the X6 concept phase has been launched and the H160 will pursue its flight test phase, steadily preparing for its 2018 entry into service.

Bell Helicopter

Bell Helicopter marked its 80th anniversary last year. It was a year of progress for the company’s three newest aircraft: the Bell 505 Jet Ranger X (light single), the Bell 525 Relentless (super medium twin), and the Bell V-280 Valor (military tiltrotor).

“The Bell 505 flight testing continues to progress with flight test vehicles 2 and 3 achieving first flights in 2015 and undergoing a variety of tests,” said David Smith, program director of the Bell 505 Jet Ranger X. The Bell 505 has received a great customer response with approximately 350 letters of intent. Additionally last year Bell opened its Lafayette (Louisiana) Assembly Center, an 82,300-square-foot facility where the Bell 505 will be assembled.

The Bell 525 first flight test vehicle (FTV1) flew its inaugural flight in July 2015. The main rotor gearbox has also been installed on the second 525 flight test vehicle (FTV2). Additionally, two pre-production 525s and the structural test articles are in the final assembly process and manufacturing of the first customer aircraft has commenced. The Bell team has identified the initial kits for early customers’ aircraft that will be installed in sequence with the aircraft assembly. Certification is scheduled for early 2017, with deliveries commencing shortly thereafter.


The Bell V-280 demonstrator’s build progress remains ahead of schedule. The fuselage has been delivered and assembly has started on the wing and nacelle tip boxes. The Bell V-280 is part of the U.S Army-led Joint Multi-Role Technology Demonstrator program, and is expected to replace 2,000 to 4,000 medium-class utility and attack helicopters.


MD Helicopters


Tracing its roots back 50 years to pioneering aviator Howard Hughes, MD Helicopters Inc. (MDHI) now makes commercial and military variants of the MD 500 series helicopters. These include the MD 500E, MD 530F, and the MD 530G Scout Attack helicopter, plus NOTAR (NO TAil Rotor) helicopters such as the single-engine MD 520N, MD 600N, and the twin-engine MD 902 Explorer.


Last year MDHI invested in and redeployed a number of resources to improve the way it does business. The company’s commercial and Scout Attack fleet saw considerable advancement in 2015, with MDHI producing and delivering aircraft in nearly all of its mission sets for a global base of operators.


Perhaps most notable was the delivery of 12 armed MD 530F Cayuse Warriors to the Afghan Air Force. “This was completed in less than nine months from contract award and is a testament to our ability to deliver customer-defined rotorcraft solutions in real time in order to effectively meet emergent requirements,” said an MDHI spokesperson. There is also a strong resurgence among law enforcement operators in their acquisition of MD aircraft that MDHI expects to continue throughout this year and beyond.


On the customer support and aftermarket side, MDHI initiated a new customer satisfaction plan that has already started to improve the way the company delivers support. The program addresses improvements in spare parts availability, increases exchange programs for high-value items, and renews the company’s commitment to 24-hour service.


This year MDHI expects to see continued growth in the manufacture and delivery of its single-engine models, and plans to keep identifying and introducing enhancements to the twin MD902. “We will continue to focus on advancing the capabilities of our Scout Attack Fleet by integrating more advanced technologies and more capable weapons systems, as well as developing and introducing glass cockpits for both our single- and twin-engine platforms, and improving overall aircraft performance,” said the MDHI spokesperson.

Robinson Helicopter Company

Trainers take note: Robinson Helicopter Company will be offering the two-seat R44 Cadet helicopter this year. It is an R44 with the rear seats removed in favor of cargo storage. That said, the R44 Cadet has been developed with the training market in mind.

With the rear seat removed, the R44 Cadet’s maximum gross weight is 2,200 pounds; that is 200 pounds less than the Raven I. The R44 Cadet’s engine power is derated to 210 hp takeoff/185 hp continuous, down from 225 hp takeoff/205 continuous hp in the Raven I. This helicopter’s lower weight and derated power provide increases in its performance margins at high altitudes, while a newly designed muffler makes the Cadet’s flyover noise more than three decibels lower than the current R44 Raven I.



Last year and into this new year and beyond, Sikorsky is focusing on its development aircraft. Key among these models is the S-97 Raider, the company-funded counter-rotating/pusher-prop scout and attack helicopter derived from the company’s X2 Technology Demonstrator. The Raider began test flights in May 2015 under a program meant to demonstrate its abilities for armed reconnaissance, light assault, light attack, and special operations. The flight test program will continue in 2016.

“When we flew Raider for the first time, we were very pleased with the way the aircraft responded – so much so that the pilots said it felt very much like this aircraft picked up right where the X2 Technology Demonstrator left off,” said Chris Van Buiten, vice president of Sikorsky Innovations. “This is a game changer in its capabilities to fly faster, higher, hotter, and quieter. It’s the real deal.”

Sikorsky launched the Raider program five years ago to help mature the X2 Technology rotorcraft configuration, which is also being used in the SB>1 Defiant prototype that Sikorsky is developing with Boeing for the U.S. Army’s Joint Multi Role helicopter program. That aircraft is expected to fly in 2017 and is Sikorsky’s third X2 aircraft in less than 10 years. It should prove the scalability of the X2 design to a 30,000-pound class weight. (The X2 Technology Demonstrator was 6,000 lbs. and the Raider 11,400 lbs.)

The company is also making advances with its Sikorsky Autonomy Research Aircraft (SARA). The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) awarded Sikorsky contracts in 2015 for phases I and II of its Aircrew Labor In-Cockpit Automation System (ALIAS), which calls for the development and insertion of automation into existing aircraft to ease crew workload. SARA is the test bed for that program. Igor Cherepinsky, Sikorsky’s chief autonomy engineer, has described ALIAS as a “digital co-pilot” or “autopilot on steroids.” He and his team are building upon the success of Sikorsky’s MATRIX Technology as the basis for ALIAS. MATRIX was developed to give rotary- and fixed-wing aircraft the high level of system intelligence needed to complete complex missions with minimal human oversight.       


Another of Sikorsky’s standouts in 2015 was the CH-53K King Stallion. This model will more than triple the external load carrying capacity of the CH-53E, thanks to its composite rotor blades, three 7,500 shp/5,590 kW engines, and improved aerodynamics. “It also has a glass cockpit, fly-by-wire technology, additional survivability, safety, and maintenance improvements,” said Mike Torok, Sikorsky’s vice president of CH-53K programs.

On the civilian side, Sikorsky announced last year the FAA’s certification of a gross weight expansion (GWE) for the S-92 helicopter. The GWE increases the S-92's maximum takeoff gross weight from 26,500 to 27,700 pounds, allowing operators to carry up to an additional 1,200 pounds of payload. GWE is available as an option on S-92 helicopters that entered production in 2015 and will be retrofittable for all S-92 aircraft already in operation. Sikorsky is in the process of obtaining certification for the retrofit configuration, expected to be in place by the end of this year.

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