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Sunday, December 1, 2013

Year in Review: Back to the Future (Vertical Lift)

By Andrew Parker, Editor-in-Chief

aparker@accessintel.com
Three of the larger stories involving the helicopter industry in 2013 have ties to Eurocopter. The first is something Eurocopter didn’t do in relation to arguably the biggest story of the year, as the manufacturer dropped out of U.S. Army Aviation’s Joint Multi-Role (JMR) competition, which leads to Future Vertical Lift (FVL), first with the medium variant. Army Aviation Missile Research, Development and Engineering Center (AMRDEC) awarded four contracts related to the first phase of JMR, which involves a technology demonstrator program (see “Proceed with Caution,” November 2013 issue, page 40).

The competition involves two coaxial concepts – from Boeing/Sikorsky, which announced a partnership earlier in 2013, with the other from AVX Aircraft – and a pair of tiltrotor designs, from Bell Helicopter and Karem Aircraft.

AVX is offering its Compound Coaxial Helicopter (CCH) design concept and Bell uncovered its V-280 Valor in April 2013 (see “Future Vertical Lift: An Overview,” May issue, page 28). Karem Aircraft came “straight out of left field” for many observers with its TR36 technology demonstrator, while Boeing/Sikorsky is basing its design on the X2/S-97 Raider.

Absent from Army Aviation’s Oct. 2 investment agreements for JMR TD Phase 1 were European OEMs AgustaWestland and EADS/Eurocopter, as well as former entrant Piasecki Helicopter.

What will happen during and after TD Phase 1? Will the U.S. Army select a single design or consider funding more than one concept due to the massive dollar amounts that are involved? How will small companies AVX and Karem fare against helicopter industry giants like Bell, Boeing and Sikorsky, or will they partner with other big OEMs looking for a piece of the pie?

2014 will hold the answer to some of these questions. For more on the JMR program, read “Future Vertical Lift: A New Hope in Challenging Times,” April issue, page M12.

Another story with wide-ranging implications comes from Eurocopter parent company EADS, which on July 31 announced the decision to change its name to Airbus (see “Aircopter? Helibus? Anatomy of a Name,” September issue, page 4). Eurocopter will become Airbus Helicopters. What that all means for helicopter designations and the like will come into focus during 2014, with implementation of the rebranding effort set to start January 1 and run through the second half of the year.

The third story of interest surrounding Eurocopter – besides the departure of longtime CEO Lutz Bertling to Bombardier Transportation – is the EC225’s return to operational status following the variant’s grounding since late 2012, after identifying the root cause related to a problem with the main gear bevel shaft (see “EASA Approves EC225 Fix as Operators Prepare for Return to Service,” August issue, page 10).

One of the more memorable stories of the year for me personally – mainly because it included the opportunity to ride in an AW139 – was a trip to AgustaWestland’s U.S. plant in Philadelphia, which is now producing the AW169 as a second site to the location in Italy (see “AgustaWestland to Bolster Philadelphia Production Line with Addition of AW169,” June issue, page 12).

It wasn’t an entirely positive year for the manufacturer, as Italian police arrested Finmeccanica CEO Giuseppe Orsi in February on corruption charges (see “AgustaWestland Controversy Emerges from the Dust of Aero India,” March issue, page 12).

Russian Helicopters opened the doors of its Rostvertol plant to a group of journalists in August, including International Bureau Chief Andrew Drwiega (see “Russia Means Business: Marketing War, Not Cold War,” October issue, page 32).

Another significant event during 2013 was the return of Rotor & Wing’s Excellence Ratings (see “Striving for Excellence,” July issue, page 32). In addition, the Rotor & Wing page on Facebook hit a milestone in October (see “Join the Conversation: 10,000 and Counting,” November issue, page 4).

I’m certain to have missed a number of topics – AgustaWestland’s Project Zero, Bell’s Short Light Single and 429 WLG, Chongqing Helicopter Investment Company’s acquisition of Enstrom, Erickson’s purchase of Evergreen, “Flying the MD540F,” (see January issue, page 43), Honeywell’s Synthetic Vision Avionics Backbone, the introduction of Rockwell Collins HeliSure, Robinson’s R66 certification in Russia, the Rolls-Royce sale of the RTM322 to Turbomeca and the unveiling of Sikorsky’s Matrix Technology, to name a few – but from an editor’s perspective, these are some of my picks for the most interesting stories of 2013.

What are your favorite stories involving the helicopter industry from the past year? What does the future hold for 2014? Send your thoughts to editor@rotorandwing.com or post them on Facebook (www.facebook.com/rotorandwing), LinkedIn (www.linkedin.com/groups/Rotor-Wing-3788071) or Twitter: @rotorandwing

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