Monthly Archives: April 2024

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Airbus Celebrates First Flight of Racer Compound Helo

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The high-speed helicopter’s design has already generated 90 patents

The Airbus Helicopters Racer high-speed compound helicopter made its first flight today in Marignane, France, flying for about 30 minutes and signaling the launch of a two-year test campaign.

Powered by two Safran Aneto-1X turboshaft engines, Racer is designed to fly at more than 215 knots while burning about 20% less fuel compared with current-generation helicopters. Racer is part of the European Clean Sky 2 research program and involves 40 partners in 13 countries.

The rotorcraft features a double-wing design with lateral pusher rotors on each wingtip. In cruise flight, Safran’s Eco-Mode hybrid-electric system allows one of the two engines to be switched to standby mode, according to Airbus, “generating further fuel savings of up to 30%.”

Airbus validated the aerodynamic configuration of Racer with research on its X3 technology demonstrator, which combined fixed wings with lateral rotors and a main rotor system. In 2013, the demonstrator broke the helicopter speed record when it flew at 255 knots.

“With its 90 patents, Racer is the perfect example of the level of innovation that can be achieved when European partners come together,” said Airbus Helicopters CEO Bruno Even. “I look forward to watching this demonstrator pioneer high-speed capabilities and develop the eco-mode system that will contribute to reducing fuel consumption.”

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Gulfstream Deliveries Set To Take Off in 2024

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Manufacturer expects to hand over 160 aircraft to customers this year, almost 50 more than in 2023

Gulfstream deliveries edged up slightly in the first quarter but did not nearly double from a year ago as planned, since FAA certification came too late to start handing over G700s before April, Phebe Novakovic, chair and CEO of parent company General Dynamics, said this morning during an investor call. The Savannah, Georgia aircraft manufacturer shipped 24 jets (21 large-cabins and three super-midsize G280s) in the quarter, up from 21 (17 large-cabins and four G280s) in the first three months of 2023.

According to Novakovic, Gulfstream had planned to deliver 15 to 17 G700s in the first quarter but will still meet its target of handing over 50 to 52 of the ultra-long-range jets by year-end. What she called Lot 1—the first 20 G700s—needed unspecified post-certification modifications but are now ready for delivery to customers, with another seven to eight of the twinjets ready by June. Novakovic said G700 shipments will be evenly paced throughout the year, meaning around 17 per quarter. Gulfstream expects to deliver about 160 aircraft in total this year, up from 111 in 2023.

Meanwhile, General Dynamics’ aerospace division, which includes Gulfstream and Jet Aviation, reported revenues of $2.084 billion and operating earnings of $255 million in the quarter, both up by more than 10 percent from a year ago. Novakovic termed the sales pipeline at the division “robust,” with strong demand for new-production Gulfstreams and aircraft maintenance services. Book-to-bill was 1.2:1 in the first three months at the aerospace division, with backlog up slightly quarter-over-quarter, to $20.454 billion.

Supply-chain issues continue to weigh on Gulfstream—with parts shortages still occurring on the production lines—but are “getting better,” Novakovic said.

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Robinson Helicopter Acquires UAV Maker Ascent AeroSystems

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Ascent’s production will now migrate across the country to Robinson’s California factory

Robinson Helicopter has purchased Massachusetts-based UAV manufacturer Ascent AeroSystems. Now a wholly-owned subsidiary of the California rotorcraft manufacturer, Ascent is recognized for its compact helicopter drones, designed for a variety of industrial, public safety, and defense applications.

Through its expertise in autonomous electric flight technology and modular design, it is expected to enhance Robinson’s products. Ascent will now move its production facilities to Robinson’s vertically integrated 600,000-sq-ft manufacturing facility at Zamperini Field Airport (KTOA) in Torrance, where it will have room to grow and scale.

“This strategic acquisition is in line with our vision to broaden our offerings and meet increasing global demand for enhanced mission capabilities in law enforcement, public safety, firefighting, utility, and defense,” said Robinson president and CEO David Smith. “Ascent’s advanced technologies and versatile designs complement our ability to be the preeminent choice in global rotorcraft.”

Ascent’s UAVs feature cylindrical bodies with coaxial rather than symmetrically distributed rotors and are designed to operate in the most challenging conditions including high wind, heavy rain, sleet, snow, and even blowing sand.

“Drones based on consumer-grade electronics will never be able to provide the safety and dispatch reliability needed to support operations at scale,” explained Ascent CEO Peter Fuchs. “The laws of physics and aerodynamics favor coaxials, and with Robinson’s 50 years of experience, there is now no better domestic source for reliable, mission-critical UAV platforms.”

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Continental Introduces Diesel For Helicopters

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Continental Aerospace Technologies has introduced a diesel engine for helicopters at Aero Friedrichschafen in Germany. The CD-170R is expected to be certified in Europe next year. The turbocharged engine puts out 170 horsepower and is direct drive with no gearbox. That saves 37 pounds. This is a major innovation milestone in Continental’s history that will allow us to serve even more pilots and operators in the general aviation industry,” said Dr. David Dörner, Vice President of Global Research and Development.

Like the airplane versions of the engine, the 170R has FADEC and the company is expecting a fuel burn of 7.9 gallons per hour or better. It will start with a time between replacement of 1,200 hours and that’s expected to increase with time in service. Flight schools and owner-pilots are expected to be the main customers.

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Honeywell Creates AI-based Tool for MROs, Manufacturers

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Honeywell Performance+ for Aerospace uses the Forge platform to offer AI and machine-learning efficiencies

Honeywell today unveiled a cloud-based platform through its Forge technology that uses artificial intelligence and machine learning to help manufacturers and MROs modernize production and lower operational costs. Honeywell Performance+ for Aerospace is part of an overarching effort by the aerospace manufacturer to support the advance of automation, the company said.

“During a time of increasing workplace complexity and operating costs, operators need to be able to leverage data to inform critical decision-making and embrace automation,” said Karen Miller, general manager of Honeywell Connected Aerospace. “As the aviation industry grapples with issues such as aging fleets, higher maintenance costs, and ongoing supply chain challenges, Honeywell Forge Performance+ for Aerospace can help organizations achieve key outcomes such as quicker turnarounds, increased asset utilization, and decreased maintenance times.”

The platform is designed to increase operational awareness and improve asset management, such as quickly locating assets. In addition, it is designed to help better manage data that may be siloed, combining predictive maintenance, site optimization, and workforce intelligence into a single site.

“Today’s aerospace companies need to improve their operational efficiency and gain better visibility into their assets, but disconnected and manual processes hold them back,” explained Michael Rowe, v-p of industry analyst Aerospace & Defense at Frost & Sullivan. “A smaller MRO team may have more than 1,200 open maintenance actions to tackle. Instead of focusing initially on work that seems easiest to complete, software solutions such as Honeywell Forge Performance+ for Aerospace can enable companies to first address those tasks with the highest impact on operations that improve productivity and decrease costly downtime.”

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CFM CEO Expects Leap Engine To Hit CFM56 Benchmark Soon

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HAMBURG—With some 75% of the new single-aisle engine market and the worst post-pandemic supply chain issues in the rearview mirror, CFM International’s focus is now on increasing the time on wing of its Leap engines.

Speaking at Airbus’ Hamburg Finkenwerder site as easyJet took delivery of its latest Leap-powered Airbus A320neo, CFM CEO Gaël Méheust told Aviation Daily that the durability of the Leap is set to meet the standard set by the previous generation CFM56.

“When it comes to time on the wing of the CFM56, it took us probably 25 years to reach that level where we are right now—we have to keep that in mind,” Méheust said.

The Leap went into service eight years ago. “We are already way higher than we were in terms of time on wing with the CFM56 at a similar time of the program,” he adds.

However, the Leap is not where many airlines upgrading from the CFM56 want it to be in terms of cycles before it has to be removed for maintenance.

Shane Lord, easyJet’s director of strategy, network and fleet, told Aviation Daily that the Leap engines on its A320neo-family fleet “maybe come a bit earlier from the wing than we would like. It is part of the maturity—introducing new components, that gets us to where the CFM56 benchmark is. There is a lot of work we do with CFM to improve the engine.”

Méheust acknowledged that there are nagging issues that need to be resolved. “We have a couple that are left for which we have certified solutions that we are going to bring to the product in the coming months,” Méheust said. Once these new components are introduced, he sees no reason why the Leap cannot reach the CFM56 benchmark.

The supply chain issues that plagued the engine-maker at the tail-end of the pandemic when demand returned are now largely resolved. “We have far less [trouble] than we had two years ago where suppliers had difficulties, but still [we have] a few problems,” the CEO said. “We are managing them very closely, but we are the [engine] OEM in the industry with the highest ramp-up.”

Leap engine deliveries in 2023 were up 40% on 2022. “And for this year, if you look to the output versus 2023, we will be somewhere between 20% and 30% [higher]—this is another big step,” Méheust said.

CFM is now producing a similar number of engines as before the pandemic. “For 2024, we should be around somewhere between 1,800 and 1,900 engines [production],” he said.

Leap engines delivered so far have flown some 14 million hr. and 20 million cycles. While the Leap’s time on wing could be longer, CFM customers are achieving higher utilization than those airlines which opted for the A320neo family’s other engine option, Pratt & Whitney’s GTF.

As Pratt-powered A320neos have been grounded for inspections, CFM has seen an uptick in interest from GTF operators. “They are currently coming and knocking on our door and asking if we can deliver,” Méheust said. “We are making proposals.”

“For us, we have sold so many engines that we have covered almost all of our capabilities in terms of MRO,” he continued. That lack of capacity is why CFM opened the Leap MRO network to third parties. “That has always been CFM policy. And now, licensed third parties are stepping in and offering solutions to customers. I think in a combination with having those MRO stepping in providing solutions and capacity, that will open up ability for us to accept more orders from customers who are willing to fly the Leap—and there are many.”

One improvement that CFM has now introduced on the Leap is a new reverse bleed system (RBS) designed to prevent a fuel nozzle problem—coking—linked to carbon deposits. Coking occurs when core engine hardware releases heat, or soaks back, after shutdown. The RBS is designed to eliminate the issue as well as related maintenance inspections and nozzle swaps in place now to mitigate risk.

Regarding the challenges Boeing faces in producing fewer 737 MAXs than planned because of quality issues, Méheust said CFM is doing what it can to support the OEM. “We have a very close relationship with Boeing, and we are trying to match their requests as closely as we can. It is an active dialog, and we deliver the engines that they need,” the CEO said.

CFM International is a 50-50 joint venture between Safran Aircraft Engines and GE Aerospace.

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Cessna unveils enhanced pistons

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WICHITA, Kansas — Textron Aviation has revealed the first deliveries of its enhanced Cessna Skyhawk, Cessna Skylane, Turbo Skylane, and Turbo Stationair HD aircraft.

“These latest product investments aim to provide a modern and stylish tone that aligns with the newest Cessna Citation jets, while maintaining the renowned comfort, durability and performance of the iconic Cessna piston lineup,” company officials said.

The new interior designs include:

  • New seats with additional support and padding
  • Power headset jacks at every seat
  • A and C USB charging ports at every seat
  • New instrument panels
  • Cell phone pockets throughout the aircraft
  • Integrated overhead air conditioning on equipped aircraft
  • A new center armrest available on certain models

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Textron eAviation Shows Off FAA-approved Velis, Works on Nexus eVTOL

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Pipistrel subsidiary is driving electric aircraft innovation at the Textron division

This week at the Sun ’n Fun Aerospace Expo, Textron eAviation is showing off its first Pipistrel Velis Electro to receive an FAA exemption from light sport aircraft (LSA) regulations. The exemption came March 4 and permits the electric-powered, two-seat airplane to be operated under LSA regulations in the U.S.

Kriya Shortt, the president and CEO of Textron eAviation, said at the show that the company’s goal is to now deliver exempted Velis Electro demonstrators to its dealer network. With the battery providing about 50 minutes of endurance (not including reserves), she noted that the small airplane is ideal for near-airport flight training, meaning practicing takeoffs and landings, as well as pattern work, because of its more muted noise profile.

In addition, Shortt said the Velis Electro’s lower acquisition cost and 60 to 70 percent lower operating costs versus piston airplanes will result in reduced aircraft rental costs, saving flight students money. “Cost is really a big barrier for flight students,” she said, adding that flight schools are a primary target market for the all-electric airplane.

Pipistrel designed a proprietary battery monitoring system for the Velis Electro. According to Shortt, this system takes battery health and charge state into consideration to present the pilot with an accurate display of remaining endurance and power.

Meanwhile, the Wichita-based company continues to work on the Nexus eVTOL aircraft and is currently building a full-scale vehicle that is expected to fly next year. “The fuselage is coming together, and first flight is planned for the first half of 2025,” Shortt said.

Textron eAviation took over the Nexus project from sister company Bell in March 2022 and since then has made refinements to the design. Bell is designing and manufacturing the aircraft’s two aft fixed rotors, while sister company McCauley is responsible for the tiltrotor propellers.

On the battery front, she said Nexus will leverage Pipistrel’s expertise in this area. “Many in the industry see Pipistrel as the leader in aircraft battery technology,” Shortt noted. “We have a really interesting group of people with doctoral degrees in physics and chemistry, not to mention aerospace engineers.”

The Velis Electro is using Pipistrel’s second-generation battery. “We’re always testing new battery types—this area is always evolving,” Shortt concluded.

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Riyadh Air and Artefact join forces to innovate AI solutions for aviation industry

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Riyadh Air, Saudi Arabia’s digitally native, world-class airline, and Artefact, a global data and AI transformation services consultancy, have signed a strategic partnership to revolutionize the aviation industry through AI applications. Utilizing cutting-edge cloud and AI technologies, the partnership will focus on building Riyadh Air’s data analytics platform and developing AI solutions across its main business and corporate functions.

Through these AI solutions, Riyadh Air will be able to hyper-personalize its guest experience and elevate its guest service through intelligent channels, optimize its flight and ground operations through real-time data insights and predictions, and launch fit-for-purpose offerings of air and non-air products through highly efficient and targeted sales channels.

Abe Dev, vice president digital and innovation at Riyadh Air, said: “Our partnership with Artefact signifies Riyadh Air’s dedication to leveraging cutting-edge technologies to enhance guest experiences at every stage and every moment of their journey. This partnership with Artefact builds upon our recent collaborations with leaders in the aviation industry. Through AI integration, we aim to redefine travel standards, offering personalized, seamless digital-first experience to our guests ahead of our maiden flight in 2025.”

Rahul Arya, CEO and managing partner of Artefact MENA, said: “Our partnership with Riyadh Air marks a significant milestone in our commitment to pioneering AI solutions tailored to the unique needs of the aviation industry. By combining Riyadh Air’s forward-thinking approach with Artefact’s expertise in data and AI solutions, we’re poised to set new standards for innovation in the airline sector.”

Riyadh Air, set to make its maiden flight in 2025, is poised to revolutionize the future of air travel and exceed guests’ expectations of their travel experience. With an unwavering dedication to cutting-edge thinking and innovation, Riyadh Air aims to set new standards in the industry, connecting the Kingdom to more than 100 destinations worldwide. This initiative supports the ambitions of both the National Aviation Strategy and National Tourism Strategy, which aim to bring 330 million annual visitors to the Kingdom by 2030.