I sit here pondering how to relate my recent experience with flying Eurocopter’s newest product, the EC175 medium twin. Let’s face it, for a steam gauge guy transitioning to glass within a span of 40 minutes, it’s easy to get lost in the Technicolor world of huge navigation and systems screens in concert with “many buttons.”
The EC175 is currently on a world tour to showcase the unique capabilities of their Technocopter. I just made up that term and I use it endearingly and with great respect because to me it is a marvel of combining technology, engineering and design.
Eurocopter EC175 on the tarmac. Photos by Pat Gray
Taking advantage of Grand Prairie’s invitation to Rotor & Wing for an EC175 flight, I joined the Eurocopter factory team at Sugarland airport just south of Houston on a beautiful spring day, CAVU as we used to say, temperature 75 degrees F, dew point 59 and pressure altitude of 30.01. Not your typical Texas weather but we do get an occasional reprieve from hot and humid here in Houston. On my arrival at the airport, American Eurocopter’s Brenda Reuland, vice president of communications and public relations, and Don Baenen, director of oil and gas marketing greeted me. Francois de Bray, marketing product manager for the EC175, ushered me in for the start of a technical briefing from the Marignane factory representatives. Following the slide presentations we proceeded to the flight line to begin the hands-on evaluation of the aircraft from a pilot’s perspective.
We started with a safety briefing covering cockpit egress with instructions on how to activate the pop out door window. Being in the offshore configuration, this is important because the crew doors do not jettison. Seat adjustments are straightforward by use of vertical fore and aft levers. The pedals can also be adjusted and for my six-foot height, I found it to be very comfortable and easily set up. Alain DiBianca, the factory test pilot, suggested that I raise my seat an additional six inches to increase my over the nose field of view. He was right. We strapped in using the four-point harness that is also available for all the passengers. The engine light off was a simple movement of a three-position toggle switch and the Pratt & Whitney full authority digital engine control (FADEC) did the rest.
Engine start was FADEC of course and so simple it was almost a non-event. There are no power levers or manual overrides. It either starts, aborts or doesn’t start. How easy is that? Rotor engagement was seamless and smooth with minimum vibration. One engine can be decoupled from the transmission and used as an auxiliary power unit (APU) if needed.
As we taxied, DiBianca pointed out that there is no need to use cyclic input for taxi thrust, just add collective power and the rotor disc presets for the angle needed to move the 12,000-pound plus weight.
Alain programmed a short 25-mile flight into the flight management system (FMS). Heading, altitude and destination were pre-set and once clear of the airport traffic, he turned the controls over to me. As I continued the climb out, he explained and demonstrated some of the programming options and overrides available like automatic flight control system (AFCS) engagement and disengagement, and the integration of systems and navigation. Power management for all phases of flight is done through the integration of dual-channel FADEC. Rotor RPM is preset and remains rock steady in all phases of flight.
The MFD screens were large and easily interpreted. I was wearing sunglasses and for some reason the navigation screen was not readable with them but once removed, no problem.
We had seven passengers and three crewmembers aboard for the flight so it was not possible to put the EC175 into maximum performance maneuvers. We did conduct a simulated engine failure that had all the aspects of a real one. The production aircraft have a built in training program that echoes the actual failure including the engine gauges going to zero and the warning systems all activated even though both engines continue to produce power. The aircraft is certified for Category A takeoff and with a 30-second limit of 2,067 shp available with each engine, it’s a walk in the park for continued performance, even at gross weight of 16,535 pounds.
I hand-flew the helicopter on the first approach ending in a 10-foot hover. The second one was a simulated automatic wide area augmentation system (WAAS) approach to a hover. Using a coolie cap switch on the collective, while in an AFCS-stabilized hover mode, the helicopter can be directed up/down and left/right in small increments including touchdown. I can see how this is helpful on a windy day over a turbulent helideck surrounded by obstructions. We then carried out a hands-off departure from a hover. All takeoffs and approaches were smooth and as advertised.
When we arrived back at Sugarland airport, I asked how long it would take the average Pilot to transition to using all of the integrated automation built into the EC175 and several factory personnel told me that two hours in the simulator would be adequate. I think this is a true statement if the crew were experienced in using multifunction displays (MFDs).
My overall impression is one of a very docile, large helicopter with enough automation to be comparable to most airliners. The “black boxes” do all the work and as demonstrated on this flight, were extremely precise and unerring. With the way all the systems work, I would be hard-pressed to hand-fly this aircraft for any flight, except perhaps in an emergency. Related: Airframe News