Posted 85 days ago ago by jhadmin
Airbus Helicopters currently has 12,000 helicopters in service in 150 countries.
In 2018, the company focused on improving the quality, safety, and operational availability of its helicopters while being more competitive and offering greater value to its customers.
“Upgrades to the product range included introducing our Helionix avionics suite on the H135, and bringing the digital cockpit to the H125 and H130,” said Chris Emerson, president of Airbus Helicopters Inc. and head of its North America region. “We also digitized our production facilities by implementing digital shop floors in some of our FALs (final assembly lines) to increase quality and shorten lead times. And we made strides in improving our logistics performance, allowing us to not only improve our internal operations, but also to raise the bar in customer support and quality.”
Looking ahead to 2019, Airbus Helicopters intends to continue this focus with enhancements and evolutions of its light single-engine H125 and H130, along with the light twin-engine H135 and H145. The company will continue to invest in the H175 and H225 as well. “We’ll also finalize the development of our newest addition, the innovative twin-engine, all-composite H160, whose EMS version was unveiled in 2018, and then concentrate on achieving a successful entry into service,” Emerson said. “We have already signed a contract for the H160 launch customer in North America and expect to finalize additional orders in 2019 as well.”
Airbus Helicopters will be pitching its H135 to the U.S. Navy’s helicopter trainer program, investing in new services and digitizing the data generated by its helicopters to improve maintenance and extend their lifespans.
The company also is expanding its presence in emerging markets. For example, its new H135 final assembly line in China – the first for a foreign helicopter manufacturer - will be inaugurated and enter production in 2019.
“Lastly, we’re working hard at laying the groundwork for making urban air mobility a reality,” Emerson said. “That’s why we’re investing in our unmanned electric passenger VTOL (vertical take-off and landing) demonstrator called City Airbus, drones such as the VSR700, and high-speed demonstrators like Racer.”
Formerly known as Bell Helicopter, this OEM changed its name to Bell in February 2018 to put its focus on “technology that enhances safety and productivity, while creating amazing vertical lift experiences beyond helicopters,” said Bell President and CEO Mitch Snyder.
Still, for many Rotorcraft Pro readers, Bell is all about helicopters. The company did not disappoint in 2018. For instance, the twin-engine Bell 525 Relentless helicopter logged over 1,000 flight hours in three flying 525 prototypes (a fourth is undergoing ground tests), as the company aims for certification in 2019.
Meanwhile, more than 505 Bell Jet Ranger X (light single-engine) helicopters have been delivered worldwide, with this rotorcraft type having already clocked more than 10,000 flight hours. Bell also introduced several kit offerings including high-skid gear, HEMS interiors, and certified floats.
In the same time period, the Bell 407GXi (single-engine) received EASA and FAA validation. An upgraded version of the 412EPX (twin-engine) built in collaboration with Subaru was unveiled at the 2018 Farnborough Airshow. Known as the Subaru Bell 412EPX, this version offers more power than earlier 412s, plus a modern glass cockpit.
Looking ahead, Bell is exploring electric and hybrid-electric VTOL technologies as it works on an air taxi aimed at urban markets. “We believe the urban air taxi market for highly automated electric and hybrid vertical lift aircraft is viable,” said Scott Drennan, vice president of innovation at Bell. He added that the air taxi concept in itself is not new: “What is new is the efficiency, affordability, and regulations required to make air transport available to the masses.”
A mock-up of a possible Bell Air Taxi cabin was shown at the 2018 Consumer Electronics Show. Now Bell is moving ahead to develop an actual prototype. “Safran will provide the hybrid propulsion systems, and Garmin will integrate the avionics and the vehicle management computer (VMC) systems,” Drennan said. “Moog will provide the Flight Control Actuation System (FCAS), EPS will provide the energy storage systems, and Thales will lead the flight controls system.”
Formerly known as Marenco Swisshelicopter, Kopter Group AG is focused on bringing its SH09 multi-purpose, light single-engine helicopter to market. This is a ‘clean sheet’ composite fuselage rotorcraft with rear clamshell doors and a reconfigurable large cabin that can carry five to eight people.
“The SH09 has the largest cabin/cargo volumes in the single-engine category, outstanding modularity and modern electronic systems,” said Andreas Löwenstein, Kopter Group AG’s CEO. “With a cruise speed of 260 km/h (140 knots) it is not only one of the fastest helicopters in its category, but it also offers a long range in excess of 800km (430 nautical miles) with standard fuel tanks.”
Last year saw this rebranded company conduct development tests with the second and third SH09 prototypes (P2 and P3), to refine the helicopter’s design and test its onboard components and systems. At the same time, Kopter hired nearly 100 new employees in engineering, production, and customer support. It started gearing its factory to begin manufacturing in 2019.
“We established several significant partnerships with key suppliers in the industry, like for example with Garmin, who will equip all our serial aircraft with their latest avionics suite, the G3000H,” Löwenstein said. “We also grew our order book. The different exhibitions that we attended allowed us to convince customers across many different market segments about the superiority of the SH09 compared to its competitors.”
This year is big for the SH09, with Kopter’s “overarching objective is to get EASA/FAA certifications before year-end,” Löwenstein said. “To achieve this, we will conduct intensive flight testing in Sicily with our P3 and then with our Pre-Series 4.”
While flight tests and the certification process are underway, Kopter will get its production system ready to start building SH09s for delivery in early 2020. Doing so will include “a major infrastructure construction project, comprising 20,000 square meters in particular for component manufacturing and pre-assembly,” Löwenstein said. Kopter also will finalize its supply chain for the SH09, and lay the groundwork for opening a U.S. plant to serve the important American market. If everything goes to plan, the first SH09 will be delivered to customers shortly after the aircraft receives EASA/FAA certification.
“The biggest challenge for Kopter is its build-up and preparation for instant growth,” said Löwenstein. “This is a challenging but highly motivating journey for all our employees, who are greatly determined to make Kopter one of the leaders in the industry as they are aware of the unique opportunity this represents.”
Leonardo enters the new year as one of the world’s largest helicopter manufacturers, with production underway in Italy, Poland, the UK, and the USA. Offering commercial and military helicopters from light singles to medium-heavy lift models, Leonardo’s family of new helicopters – specifically the AW139, AW169, and AW189 – all share a similar approach to design, certification standards, support, and training.
The company had a good year in 2018. For instance, Leonardo signed a contract with Qatar for 28 NH90s valued at around €3 billion (approx. $3.4 billion). Meanwhile the Boeing MH-139, which is based on Leonardo’s AW139, has been selected by the USAF for the UH-1N replacement program.
As well, Leonardo has signed further contracts for dozens of helicopters with Sino-US in China, particularly for EMS applications; reaching a 70% share in the Chinese air ambulance market. It will also supply 21 AW139s to Saudi Aramco for offshore and SAR roles. Leonardo has also begun delivering the AW109 Trekker light twin to customers.
In 2019, Leonardo hopes to attain FAA certification for its AW609 twin-engine, tilt-rotor helicopter, with deliveries starting afterwards. The company also is working on unmanned helicopters, and plans to continue expanding its stable of helicopters and services globally. Also on the radar is the U.S. Navy’s helicopter trainer procurement, for which Leonardo is pitching its TH-119 single-engine, IFR-capable helicopter (a variant of the AW119).
Asked about Leonardo’s biggest challenges in 2019, Gian Piero Cutillo, managing director of Leonardo’s Helicopters Division, answered, “Delivering the level of capabilities, cost/effectiveness and service the market is requiring is a top priority and a challenging effort for OEMs. We’re doing this with customized solutions and growing level of service for both maintenance and training on a global scale. The world market has suffered in recent years but, as all manufacturers, we see signs of recovery in it.”
MD HELICOPTERS INC.
For MD Helicopters Inc. (MDHI), 2018 was “a year of tremendous growth,” said an MDHI spokesperson. That growth occurred in the “continued improvements and expansion of the performance envelope for commercial and military variants of our MD 530-series aircraft,” they said. “We continued to focus on integrating the best, leading-edge technologies into our airframes to deliver mission-specific solutions that meet our customers’ defined needs.”
MDHI also announced new features on its MyMD.aero customer website, which gives MD helicopter operators real-time access to the data, parts, and technical support needed to keep their rotorcraft flying. These features include an improved sign-up for public users that supports more account information being entered to further personalize their accounts, a single sign-on for users accessing information from Air Technical Publishers and/or the MyMD.aero Fresh Desk. MyMD.aero has also added a ‘Flash Sales’ feature to give users exclusive access to deeply discounted product sales.
Looking forward to 2019, MDHI stated, “We expect to see another year of advancement in aircraft capabilities as well as sales growth/expansion within our military and law enforcement market segment. The certification of our Block 2 glass cockpit and release of the 3,350 MGTOW increase for the MD 530F, along with our forward position on the development of a complete, crashworthy fuel system for all commercially available airframes will be significant efforts throughout 2019.”
Next year, MDHI plans to reduce AOGs and DOCs for all of its helicopters; improve parts availability and fulfillment; and add more features to MyMD.aero – including allowing users to log flight hours directly into the MDHI database to provide more accurately scheduled maintenance bookings.
“Internal R&D efforts will also increase in 2019 as we look to expand not just the capabilities of our current aircraft, but the footprint of our global fleet as well,” said the MDHI spokesperson. “The biggest challenge we face today is growing our core MDHI team at a pace to support both our development/R&D efforts and our growing orders backlog for both commercial and military aircraft.”
With more than 12,000 rotorcraft manufactured since 1979, Robinson Helicopter continues to impress the industry as ‘the little company that could’ – and then some. Started by Frank Robinson with a vision of building reliable, yet highly affordable helicopters, the company now builds R22 (two-passenger), R44 (four-passenger), and R66 (five-passenger) models.
“We are focused on reliable economical helicopters that perform a wide variety of missions including training, sightseeing, commercial, transportation, news reporting, police and offshore operations,” said company President Kurt Robinson. “Each helicopter offers a variety of options and avionics, which allows the aircraft to be customized depending on the owner’s/operator’s needs.”
In 2018, Robinson Helicopter introduced a variety of avionics upgrades and options for its helicopters. These included a lithium battery for the R66, heated seats, wire-strike prevention, and a cargo hook version that allows the hook operator to fly the helicopter from the left side.
For 2019, “we are continuing to upgrade our avionics and flight systems,” Robinson said. “We are also getting close to completing an onboard video data recorder to enhance flight training and sightseeing operations.”
Kurt Robinson said that “the biggest challenges we see (for 2019) as our fleet of helicopters continues to expand, is maintaining our edge in customer support and being able to continue to improve the quality of our products, as well as providing a high level of customer service and support, which our industry requires.”
Last year was a busy year for Sikorsky. Having seen its helicopters help save 2,025 lives the year before, the company’s rotorcraft were equally active in life-saving missions in 2018; including “the devastating wildfires in California where the Firehawk performed as a workhorse in support of the firefighting teams,” said Mike Ambrose, Sikorsky’s vice president of engineering and technology.
“We continue seeing high utilization of our products, even in a challenging oil and gas market,” Ambrose said. “Nearly 90% of S-92 fleet flight hours serve the offshore oil industry. In 2018, average monthly S-92 fleet flight hours grew by about 10%.” In the same time period, Sikorsky’s commercial customer care center exceeded its monthly goal of resolving aircraft-on-ground in less than 24 hours for every month.
Also in 2018: The Sikorsky Autonomy Research Aircraft (SARA) equipped with MATRIX Technology continued to prove the viability of optionally piloted vehicle (OPV) flight. During the year, U.S. Army pilots supervised a number of SARA OPV missions developed by Sikorsky and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). This was the first time that the SARA-modified S-76B commercial helicopter has been operated by non-Sikorsky pilots.
Sikorsky also continued to test fly its S-97 Raider compound helicopter demonstrator, which exceeded 200 knots at the Sikorsky Development Flight Center in September 2018. “It’s exciting to achieve these high speeds with X2 Technology,” said Sikorsky Experimental Test Pilot Bill Fell.
Finally, the CH-53K heavy-lift helicopter has fundamentally redesigned to function as a digital aircraft. To make this happen, the CH-53K is now loaded with the Integrated Vehicle Health Management System (IVHMS), which provides active monitoring and diagnostic capabilities to make operations and servicing faster and more accurate for human pilots and maintainers.
Looking ahead to 2019, Sikorsky will be applying SARA OPV autonomous flight technology to a Black Hawk UH-60A (aka the OPV Black Hawk). “The optionally piloted Black Hawk with MATRIX Technology will take its first flight in 2019,” Ambrose said. “It is the latest aircraft to take on this role in our next phase of autonomous aircraft development, and will prove to be the foundation for future applications.”
This company will continue to test fly the S-97 Raider, to prove its ability “to meet and exceed the requirements of the U.S. Army’s Future Vertical Lift Light,” Ambrose said. “The Raider flight test program is exceeding expectations, and we are generating the data to submit with our proposal to show that we have advanced X2 Technology and it is proven compliant and ready to take the next steps. Additionally, in 2019, we’ll expand X2 Technology testing with our third-generation X2 aircraft, the SB-1 Defiant, which we believe is the best aircraft to enable the Army to accomplish future medium-lift aircraft missions.”