Tag Archives: #helicopters

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Airbus H160 Debuts in U.S. with PHI Aviation

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Marignane – Airbus has delivered the first H160 in the U.S. to PHI, marking the beginning of H160 operations in the country. This is the first of the initial four H160 helicopters that PHI will operate for offshore transportation in the Gulf of Mexico.

Prior to beginning commercial operations, the helicopter will be used in a route-proving programme designed to demonstrate the H160’s capabilities in the demanding offshore environment. This will help facilitate a smooth entry into service, ensuring the operator and final customer are familiar with the aircraft’s advanced technology and safety features.

“This is an exciting milestone for our teams and partners,” said Scott McCarty, CEO of PHI Group. “The H160 represents a new era for PHI, enhancing our commitment to safety, quality and efficiency for our operations in the Gulf of Mexico. We are proud to officially welcome this next-generation aircraft into our fleet as we kick off route-proving. Congratulations to everyone who helped make this achievement possible!”

“With its state-of-the-art technology, the H160 has set a new standard in the helicopter industry and we are pleased U.S. customers will now benefit from the aircraft’s superior performance,” said Bruno Even, CEO of Airbus Helicopters. “The H160’s lower fuel consumption, its ability to use up to 50% blended SAF, comfortable cabin, and excellent cockpit visibility make it ideally suited for offshore operations, and we are confident that it will excel in PHI’s energy missions.”

The H160 has proven to be a popular choice for customers in North America and the first Canadian delivery of the helicopter type was made recently to Chartright Air Group. The H160 has entered into service in Brazil, Japan, Saudi Arabia, France, and many other European countries.


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Leonardo AW09 Gets Updated Corporate Look

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Helicopter to embark on demonstration tour

Leonardo took the wraps off of a full-scale cabin mockup of its AW09 single-engine helicopter at the opening of EBACE 2024. Showcasing a VIP-corporate transport cabin layout and paint scheme that will be offered as an option, the unveiling marks the “official entrance” of the AW09 as part of the Agusta family of corporate helicopters, said Cecile Vion-Lanctuit, head of communications and marketing for Leonardo’s Kopter Group.

The interior was designed to provide a customized yet modular approach to the cabin space with the latest technology and sustainability advancements. Carving a niche in the long-light single-engine segment, the AW09 will have the largest cabin and most legroom in its class.

According to Leonardo, the cabin can accommodate interiors ranging from a four-plus-one up to a three-plus-three-plus-two seating layout. The interior will be offered in a set of dedicated themes that the company is inspired by “harmony and perfection found in nature” yet present a modern feel. Themes include Desert Dawn, Cedar Woods, Ocean Twilight, and Dark Cosmos.

Also to appeal to the corporate crowd, the company is touting the large front and side windows that enhance visibility for the passengers, alongside the safety benefits for the pilot.

Kopter chief test pilot Richard Grant, along with Leonardo chief test pilot Giuseppe Afruni, unshrouded the mockup before a crowd gathered at the booth on the show floor, marking the kickoff of a demonstration tour that will include showings across Europe this summer, as well as at various events.

As Leonardo looks to expand its foothold in the corporate market with the helicopter—the first all-new model to be developed in decades in its class—it has built a backlog of orders for more than 100 units globally.

As the mockup embarks on its tour, flight testing continues on the AW09 with hopes of certification in 2025. Leonardo has two preproduction models—PS4 and PS5—flying and checking off a series of flight tests. PS6, the first production model, is expected at the end of the year. An earlier prototype, PS3, retired in September 2022 after 387 flights.

PS4, which incorporates all developments implemented on PS3, joined the program in March 2023 with the 1,000-shp-class Safran Helicopter Engines Arriel 2K, a switch from the Honeywell HTS900 on the predecessor prototypes.

PS5 joined the program this past February. Grant estimated that the two flight-test aircraft have now accrued about 130 flights, exploring a limited altitude envelope, up to about 16,000 feet with plans to go higher, and tested maximum speed in dive, he said.

In addition, Leonardo has completed a lot of airfield work simulating wind conditions. “At the moment, we’re able to hover in winds up to about 35 knots or around that with quite a low workload.”

Component systems tests have long been under way. “Now we’ve got to that stage where we’ve just got to gather the data,” he said.

In addition to the cabin, Grant touted the aircraft’s ease of flying and safety systems. “It’s designed to be easy and simple in every aspect, flying it, operating it, maintaining it,” he said. “I think it’s really achieving that. We’re starting to see that now.”

He added that other test pilots from Leonardo have flown it and “they’re all reporting very similar things.”


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Bell Testing 429 Helicopter Autonomy Laboratory

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The fly-by-wire Bell 429-based flying lab is capable of autonomous flight.

Bell Textron has unveiled its 429-based Aircraft Laboratory for Future Autonomy (ALFA) helicopter equipped with fly-by-wire flight controls and capable of autonomous flight. The modified 429 made its first flight last August at Bell’s Canada assembly and delivery center in Mirabel, Quebec, then it was moved to Bell’s flight research center in Fort Worth, Texas.

The ALFA 429 was developed by Bell’s advanced programs team, and its fly-by-wire flight controls are separate from the helicopter’s aircraft safety system. This allows “for rapid development and evaluation of novel flight control technology without compromising overall safety,” according to Bell.

“Fly-by-wire flight, coupled with additional capability that [is] being integrated into ALFA, provide a great foundation for Bell to expand on its autonomous capabilities,” said Jason Hurst, executive v-p of engineering. “This aircraft will serve as a flying lab that will inform future autonomous technology development, which we can ultimately leverage to deliver the best rotorcraft solutions to global operators.”


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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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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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Airbus Helicopters ends Heli Expo 2024 with 155 commitments

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Airbus Helicopters has ended this years Heli Expo with commitments for 155 aircraft including 40 firm orders.

The biggest customer came in the form of an historic contract with Saudi Arabian base The Helicopter company (THC) which committed to 120 aircraft including firm orders for 8 H125s and 10 H145s.

Positions itself as the leader in the medical helicopter market Airbus also received orders for 10 H145s for DRF Luftrettung and 4 H135s for U.S. operator HealthNet Aeromedical Services.

Canadian tour operator Niagara Helicopters added six H130s and Bristow placed an order for up to 15 H135s for the growing energy market.

“We thank our customers for placing their trust in our teams and our products and services with 155 commitments and 40 firm orders announced at this year’s Heli-Expo. It is a unique opportunity in the year to meet and exchange with customers and industry players. In 2023, our global fleet achieved 3 million flight hours so customer feedback is essential and it drives the continuous improvement of our solutions to enhance their critical, often life-saving, missions,” said Bruno Even, Airbus Helicopters CEO.

Airbus Helicopters also announced an HCare contract that ensures tip-to-tail coverage for Air Center Helicopters’ 18 H225 helicopters and the Czech Republic’s emergency medical services provider, DSA, also signed an HCare PBH contract to cover their eight H135 helicopters.


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The Resurgence of Sikorsky’s Helibus

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Sikorsky readies production ramp-up for its S-92 heavy twin

The resurgent offshore energy industry is driving fresh demand for Sikorsky’s largest civil helicopter, the S-92A Helibus.

Sikorsky delivered just four S-92s in 2022 and three last year. But three more are on the assembly line at the company’s West Palm Beach, Florida facility, and the company is in the final stages of negotiations for a block of 14 new-build helicopters for delivery in 2025 and 2026.

These helicopters will be delivered in the upgraded “A+” configuration that includes the new Phase IV main gearbox and a menu of choices including upgrated GE CT7-8A6 engines that offer better high/hot performance. The new gearbox uses a supplemental oil pump and additional oil lines to reuse main gearbox oil that is accumulated in a lower sump, in the event of primary lubrication failure. The A+ kits will be available for retrofit.

Leon Silva, Sikorsky v-p for commercial business, said that the helicopters will be produced at a facility to be announced and not West Palm. Production shifted to West Palm after Sikorsky closed its Coatesville, Pennsylvania plant in 2022. Silva said Sikorsky has evaluated “a large number of options” for production and does have a specific place in mind but is not ready to announce it. The helicopter will be produced in the U.S.

Silva pointed out that Sikorsky has assembled the S-92 in four different locales since production commenced in 2005 and that moving production is not overly difficult due to the helicopter’s architecture of putting it together from “very large subassemblies.”

Sikorsky has made “good progress” toward certification of the A+ kits, Silva said. The company anticipates receiving FAA approval in 2025. Most of the certification work centered around the Phase IV gearbox “and improvements associated with that,” he added.

“The majority of the site testing has been completed, and we have collected the data. We’re now organizing those reports and coordinating with the FAA for certification. We made a lot of nice progress last year and have it [the A+ program] fully funded and going full speed this year,” he said.

Sikorsky’s Matrix autonomy system could be added to the A+ at some point in the future, but Silva said that, for the present, Sikorsky is focused on “solving today’s challenges and not coming off like we are trying to distract anybody with some fancy technology.”

But Sikorsky has looked at incorporating Matrix into the S-92, and “we are having some interesting conversations with potential partners in order to develop a certification path.” He said Matrix will significantly reduce pilot workload. “We think customers are likely to be interested in that,” he remarked, adding that while “we don’t have any specific plans right now for that development, we are definitely having discussions and exploring potential tasks.”

For the moment, “today’s challenges” are focused on keeping the existing fleet of S-92s in the air. Nearly two-thirds of the 300-strong S-92 fleet serves the offshore oil and gas industry, and the majority of those are owned by leasing companies, with AerCap unit Milestone Aviation being the fleet leader at more than 80.

While Sikorsky has made progress in keeping customers supplied with parts and assemblies, Silva admits that it remains a problem. Silva said the lead time for a new S-92 main gearbox is two and a half years, but often customers can accept a refurbishment as opposed to a replacement.

That said, Sikorsky boosted gearbox output by 40 percent in 2023 compared with 2022, delivering 39. It anticipates increasing that number by 25 percent in 2024 and being caught up with the main gearbox backlog, as well as future anticipated needs, by year-end. Silva said Sikorsky produced a record number of gearbox housings in 2023, a component that requires highly complex fabrication.

Record S-92 post-Covid flight activity created a “perfect storm” for the OEM, with the helicopters flying record hours at a greater tempo than anticipated, Silva said. “They’re more active than ever before. While that validates the quality and strength of the design,” it also creates “supply chain issues.”

“We are trying to work through them, and they are improving slowly. Time is the biggest challenge. Most of these parts have long lead times, and it takes time to recover from that.”

During Covid, one in five S-92s were parked, but that didn’t last long. “That started the [parts] challenge,” Silva said. “We saw about 40 aircraft that were in storage being pulled out and put back into service.” He noted that when aircraft were put into storage, forward maintenance was not always a priority.

“In some cases, people weren’t too concerned about updating their [gear] boxes and so forth. So some of those aircraft—as soon as they got pulled out and put back into service—required additional attention. So demand for parts, specifically gearboxes, really spiked. That’s been our big challenge,” Silva said, adding that it was in Sikorsky’s best interest to move as quickly as possible to satisfy parts demand.

“It’s a critical issue for the operator and for us. Our business is aligned with the customer because of the way we support them. A large number of these aircraft are on our hourly power program. We don’t make money if they are not flying, so we are highly incentivized.”

Meanwhile, pressure from increased flight hours has led to the scrapping of some aircraft for parts as others bump up against the 20-year maximum age limit specified by some offshore customers or the 30,000-hour life limit of the aircraft. While it could be technically possible to zero-time remanufacture the aircraft to deal with these limits, Silva said it is not economically feasible. “It’s difficult to rationalize because it would require a lot of additional testing and certification on the aircraft to get there.”


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Schweizer Looks to Future as It Continues To Rebuild

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With new manufacturing certifications in place, the OEM looks to ramp up production and support

Schweizer Helicopter has had a busy year, according to CEO David Horton. Last March, the light helicopter manufacturer received its unlimited production certificate from the FAA, which supplanted the limited production certificate it received in August 2020. This authorization allows the Fort Worth-based OEM full production of the S300C and S300CBi piston-powered helicopters without FAA oversight of each aircraft.

Additionally, the manufacturer has received approval for a crash-resistant fuel system STC in response to Special Airworthiness Information Bulletin (SAIB) SW-17-31R1. The first installation on a new-production Schweizer will take place by April and it is retrofittable. This approval also allows the company to resume U.S. sales of its helicopters.

After Schweizer was acquired from Sikorsky in 2018, the company has worked to restart its production line for the venerable helicopter. Horton noted that it has delivered a dozen helicopters since 2021 and has several in its backlog. One of Schweizer’s goals this year is to expand its global sales force to strengthen its order book.

The airframer is also taking steps to improve the manufacturability of its parts. “When the helicopter was designed and built in the 1950s and 1960s, the manufacturing capability was limited and therefore you used a lot of castings in the production of these helicopters,” explained Horton. “We want to move away from castings as we can and go to machined parts,” which have lower lead times and would ultimately lower end costs for the customer.

It is also developing a digital flat-panel instrument display, which the company said will reduce weight by up to 15 pounds.

Schweizer has also worked to address what it describes as its customers’ number-one concern: spare parts. Over the past four years, the company restarted its supply chain and invested $15 million in parts and tooling.

Horton noted that the OEM today has parts on its shelves to fill 90 percent of all orders when received. “We’re maybe not at the apex where we feel like it’s 100 percent covered all the time, but we feel really good about where we are at with regards to supporting the fleet and having spare parts.”

To bolster its worldwide service network, the company authorized three new locations: HeliEast in Poland, Heli Holland in the Netherlands, and the UK’s Unionlet, which also has a track record of helicopter supply and support in Africa.

In November, the company completed the first example in its OEM Certified Helicopter Program, which was established to bring new life to existing Schweizer airframes. The program comes in two levels, the first being ‘Refresh,’ which includes ensuring all life-limited components have at least 50 percent of their remaining time, at least 60 percent life remaining on the engine, all required inspections and repairs, overhauled landing gear dampers, new cabin and door Plexiglas, and touch-up paint.

The second level is “refurbish,” which involves disassembling the entire helicopter and providing a more extensive slate of repairs such as new interior, Plexiglas, wiring,  main and tail rotor blades, and hoses, as well as a factory-fresh or overhauled engine and cleaned and certified oil coolers. It is also stripped and repainted inside and out, and comes with a one-year, 1,000-hour warranty.

“When you buy a used helicopter, you are always taking some level of risk,” Horton told reporters during a Heli-Expo press conference. “Our intention of doing this is to take a lot of that risk out of buying a used helicopter.”

Thus far, he said the Fort Worth-based company has delivered four renovated Schweizers. With between 1,200 and 1,500 active helicopters in the company’s worldwide fleet, which has tallied more than 17 million flight hours, Horton believes there is an ample supply of potential airframes for the upgrade program.

The company also partnered with an insurance company to establish a dedicated coverage program offering prenegotiated rates and benefits unavailable to other piston helicopter manufacturers.

Looking ahead, Horton sees a path to bringing back the turbine-powered Schweizer 333.

“We still believe there is a future for the triple three. I believe in the next 18 months we will secure an order big enough to where we can start production. That will be our next big undertaking.”

Further on the horizon is the 444, a rendering of which Horton showed on Tuesday at the show. While he acknowledged that the aircraft—in the absence of development funding—is just a paper design, it serves a vital role.

“I think for any company, having something that you can push for to the future is really a great thing,” concluded Horton. “If you’re not really driving towards something, what are you doing?”


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Leonardo Lands Substantial New Orders

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The company announces 50 orders at Heli-Expo

Leonardo announced orders and commitments for 180 new helicopters on Tuesday at Heli-Expo.

The Helicopter Company (THC), owned by Saudia Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, placed a firm order for 20 AW139 intermediate twins and inked a multi-year framework agreement for more than 130 Leonardo helicopters.

Air ambulance and helicopter services company Metro Aviation will take 30 AW09 singles in its role as distributor for the model in the U.S. and Canada. Metro also is supporting the AW09 by developing interiors and STCs for the aircraft and offering service and training for it. Metro operates a fleet of 170 helicopters and airplanes in 27 states and the District of Columbia.

Long-time Leonardo distributor for the UK and Ireland, Sloane Helicopters, has agreed to order nine AW09s, along with two AW109 Grand New and two AW109 Trekker light twin models. Sloane has delivered more than 110 Leonardo helicopters since 1995 and also represents the company’s Agusta VIP brand.

The Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency has ordered four Leonardo AW189 super-medium twins through Galaxy Aerospace to meet its long-range search-and-rescue (SAR) mission requirement. The agency already operates three AW139 intermediate twins. The new helicopters will be delivered in 2025 and 2026. More than 140 AW189s have been ordered and 90 delivered worldwide.

LifeFlight Australia has committed to three more AW139s, in addition to orders for two others announced in late 2023 for its joint venture with StarFlight. These helicopters will boost LifeFlight’s AW139 fleet to 16 aircraft. Leonardo has delivered more than 130 helicopters to Australian customers and has an installed fleet of 60 AW139s there flying parapublic missions.


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Airbus expands made in India program with Helicopter deal

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Airbus has expanding its “Made in India” program with a deal with Tata Group that will see Airbus Helicopters assembled on a new Final Assembly Line (FAL) in India.

The program is part of India’s plan to be self-reliant .

This will be the first time a private sector company has set up a helicopter manufacturing facility in the country and will be used for the Airbus H125 Helicopter for clients in India as well as being exported to the wider region.

The H125 is the worlds best selling single-engine helicopter and is well suited to mountainous regions being the only helicopter to have landed on Everest.

N. Chandrasekaran, Chairman, Tata Sons, said, “The Tata Group is delighted to set up India’s first helicopter assembly facility in the private sector. This facility will have the final assembly line in partnership with Airbus for the world’s bestselling Airbus H125 single engine helicopter for the Indian as well as export markets.”

The final assembly line is expected to take around two years to set up with the first “Made in India” H125’s to be delivered in 2026.

“Helicopters are crucial for nation building. A ‘Made-in-India’ civil helicopter will not only be a symbol of the confident New India but will also unlock the true potential of the helicopter market in the country,” said Guillaume Faury, Airbus CEO. “This helicopter final assembly line, which we will build together with our trusted partner Tata, is a reaffirmation of Airbus’ commitment to developing the full spectrum of the aerospace ecosystem in India.