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Friday, April 1, 2005

Around the Horn in Anaheim

Rotor & Wing Staff

February's annual HAI gathering in California was a busy and productive event for operators and suppliers alike. Here's a rundown of some highlights.


Talk of New Aircraft, Government Help

A new species of eagle is soaring through the skies. She is the Global Eagle, the newest upgrade for the UH-1 "Huey." With Heli-Expo 2005 as the backdrop, the U.S. and Border Protection agency received its old UH-1 with a newly installed Global Eagle upgrade.

Developed by Fort Worth, Texas-based DynCorp International, in partnership with Pratt & Whitney Canada and Global Helicopter, the upgrade consists of two kits: one for the engine and one for the tail rotor.

First, DynCorp swapped the Huey's standard Lycoming T-53-L-13 for the more powerful, 1,675 shp. Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6C-67D turbine. The PT6C offers 20 percent greater fuel economy, resulting in better range and more cost-effective operations. The increase in power mandates the second part of the modification; the tail rotor enhancement.

Historically, the UH-1 loses tail-rotor effectiveness at high power settings, especially in a high, hot and heavy environment. Stuffing a few more horses under the hood will only make things worse if anti-torque issues are ignored. To solve the problem of running out of left pedal with the more muscular PT6C, a density altitude compensator is installed under the cabin floor.

This unit "increases tail rotor pitch as the aircraft climbs above 4,000 ft. density altitude," said DynCorp test pilot Dave Anderson. "We do it that way so that there is no way that the pilot can put in too much tail-rotor pedal to overstress the tail boom or the tail-rotor drive components." The compensator, which could fit in a shoebox, continues to increase tail-rotor pitch up to 14,000 feet, yet leaves enough tail-rotor thrust to allow adequate performance.

Anti-torque efficiency is also increased by moving the entire tail-rotor from the left side of the vertical stabilizer to the right side, thus making the system a "tractor," instead of a "pusher." The upgrade is completed with the addition of a strake to the port side of the tail boom. The overall result is a marked increase in tail-rotor authority at higher altitudes and significantly better fuel economy.

Total cost for both kits is under $1 million, Anderson said. Software for the computer-controlled elements of the system will reportedly increase power from 1,675 shp. to 1,790 shp.

Three UH-1's have received the Global Eagle upgrade: DynCorp's test aircraft, a Georgia Forestry Commission Huey, and the U.S. Customs and Border Protection force's aircraft. Turnaround time for the installation is reported to be about 30 days.

Bell/Agusta Aerospace Co. plans to begin ground runs soon of its BA609 in preparation for testing to expand the civil tilt-rotor's flight envelope throughout this year. The first flight test aircraft, BA609 No. 1, is undergoing configuration modifications at Bell Helicopter Textron's Flight Research Center, in Arlington, Texas. Upgrades include the program-pacing hardware and software for the flight controls, which were contracted from BAE Systems.

The initial hovering portion of the flight test program was completed in early 2003. So far the BA609 has nine flights for a total of 14 hr.

BA609 No. 2 is at Agusta's assembly and flight-testing facility in Italy, where tests are progressing in support of aircraft No. 1. Aircraft No. 2 will fly 90-120 days after aircraft No. 1 returns to flight.

BA609 No. 3 is to be shipped to Italy later this year. Bell/Agusta will produce a total of four prototype tilt-rotors for flight-testing in the United States and Italy to earn Transport Category IFR certification.

Enstrom Helicopter Corp. President Jerry Mullins is on a soapbox. He wants federal and state government officials to understand that the U.S. helicopter industry can't survive an onslaught from Eurocopter without financial help.

One project he would pursue with state funding is a low-cost turbine trainer, the starting point for which would be one of Enstrom's piston-powered airframes (the F28F or F280FX). This is where the 480 started life, but the airframe was substantially strengthened to take the Rolls-Royce 250 C20W turboshaft, and Mullins reckons there is a market for a lighter, cheaper turbine trainer. The rub, of course, is the price of the engine. Mullins said he has discussed possibilities for reducing the 250's cost while looking for alternatives.

Projects with a more immediate call on any new funding include a right-seat pilot-in-command kit, a rotor brake (which is now being certified), an electro-optical pod mount, full night-vision-goggle compatibility, a barrier filter for the engine, a wire strike protection kit and a searchlight. Mullins said he wants these things on the shelf, to have the 480B better prepared to compete with Eurocopter in future bidding.

With more development money, Mullins would make more substantial changes to the 480, principally by mounting it on the cabin roof, which would allow him to eliminate the belt and use direct drive. This would also free up cabin space, allowing a bulkhead to be moved back to make room for a 2+3 seating configuration along with more baggage space. Direct drive would also allow longer TBOs.

Enstrom received FAA certification for the newly designed elastomeric dampers for the 480 turbine rotor head. The dampers can be retrofitted to any 480 or 480B and replace the current hydraulic damper system. This not only improves the ride quality, but also will help reduce maintenance costs over the life of the aircraft. It is available as a retrofit kit from the factory.

Bell Helicopter Textron said last year was great for sales, which were up about 80 percent over 2003. The backlog built up in all models, the company said, adding that it expects strong demand to continue this year. That should help Bell double its business by the end of the decade.

Bell attributed the busy year to product improvements, sustained superior customer support and service, as well as an improving economic picture and world events. Changes in its production processes are helping Bell bring products to market faster to meet customer requirements, the company said.

Bell's commercial deliveries increased to 109 aircraft last year from 97 in 2003. Its foreign military business delivered eight aircraft last year versus 28 in 2003. The company attributed that drop to a decrease in Huey II kits delivered (six in 2004 versus 19 in 2003) and the fact that deliveries of Royal Saudi 412s were completed early last year.

Eurocopter has made 116 improvements to its popular EC135 light twin in the last year.

The company said about half were the result of customer demands and the other half were made as a result of Eurocopter's experience with the operational fleet. The changes include an improved rotor brake, a transient torque of 2x80 percent, and an improved passenger service unit. Customers wanted a new weather radar, Iridium satellite telephone capability, dual Garmin dual/single-pilot navigation installations, fixed landing lights, voice box and sand erosion protection for the main rotor blades. All of those items have been certified, Eurocopter said.

The EC135 continues to see strong demand from international law enforcement agencies and emergency medical service operators. Eurocopter delivered 60 EC135s and four EC635s last year, with 40 going to the EMS market.

Due to high demand, it is increasing its annual production of the EC135 by 20 percent to 72 units this year. A total of 382 EC135s have been delivered to date.

Schweizer Aircraft Corp. delivered six Model 333s to the government of Mexico and has two more aircraft on order. The 333s will perform airborne law enforcement and surveillance missions including border patrol, drug enforcement and interdiction. The company is under contract to delivery 10 new 300CBis starting next year to Caseright Aviation at Turweston Airfield in the United Kingdom. Caseright is a Schweizer distributor in the United Kingdom and sells and services Schweizer helicopters. The Elmira, N.Y. subsidiary of Sikorsky Aircraft also delivered a new 300C to High Desert Helicopters at Heli-Expo 2005. The aircraft is the third new 300C delivered to High Desert in the last year. "We have been able to train two students from zero time to CFII in less than eight months," High Desert's chief instructor and president, Russ Buttars, said, "in addition to training an array of other students who have less aggressive flying schedules." High Desert Helicopters, LLC is based at Salt Lake Airport No. 2 in West Jordan, Utah.


A Growing Market

A total of 10, 677 turbine helicopters valued at $91.4 billion for the airframe and $8.5 billion for the engines will be delivered during the 2005-2014 period, according to the Rolls-Royce annual forecast. The forecast was done in partnership with The Teal Group.

In announcing the 10-year forecast, Scott Crislip, Rolls-Royce president-helicopter and small gas turbine engines, said that the figures confirm last year's forecast, with the onset of military fleet replenishment during the period offset by delays to a number of key military programs.

The military market has been significantly impacted by a number of changes, including postponement or canceling of programs and the move away from service life extension programs (SLEP) to new-build programs that are now considered lower risk. Crislip noted that the new-build philosophy includes programs such as the UH-60M, MH-60R, CH-47F, CH-53X, UH-1Y and possibly the AH-1Z.

A total of 5,533 military helicopter deliveries and major engine-related upgrades are expected during the 10-year period, with an airframe value of $77.6 billion and installed engine value of $6.6 billion. Approximately 45 percent of all units delivered will be multi-engine medium rotorcraft, primarily troop transport and maritime patrol, with 19 percent being intermediate twins, such as light attack and tactical utility helicopters, and 18 percent being single-engine aircraft such as armed reconnaissance helicopters.

The fastest growth in military helicopters will over the next five years, then leveling off for the remaining five years, Crislip said.

The civil forecast remains stable when compared to the 2004-2013 projection. A total of 5,144 civil helicopters are expected to be delivered during the period, with an overall airframe value of $13.8 billion and engine value of $1.9 billion. Crislip said that this stability reflects the long-term health of the civil helicopter market, "with anticipated new product introduction towards the end of the decade bolstered by strong near-term paramilitary demand from law enforcement agencies.

The civil market will be dominated by single-engine helicopters, accounting for 57 percent of deliveries, and light twins with 21 percent. Growth is expected to be slow, from a low of 497 units this year to a peak of 526 in 2014.

Rolls-Royce also announced that it now has a new gearbox shaft seal with a laminated Teflon lip, thicker cross section and new spring design with superior tear strength and no leakage for operators of helicopters powered by its model 250 engines. The new Viton Hydrodynamic lip seals are available through Aviall, exclusive dealer for Rolls-Royce 250 engine parts and technical publications. Along with announcing the new lip seal, RR said that it is working to increase the life limits of impellers on the Model 250-C28 and -C30 (non-FADEC) engine families. This will allow operators of aircraft with those two model engines to extend the operating life of their impellers from the existing 12,500-hr. limit to 15,000 hr.

Turbomeca launched its SBH Mission modular maintenance program, which the company said guarantees operators engine availability, maintenance support and close monitoring of maintenance costs. The new program expands Turbomeca's SBH service-by-the-hour program. The SBH contract between Turbomeca and a operator is based on engine flying hours and is packaged into seven mission types for multi-role operators: charter-taxi-tourism, corporate, EMS, police-parapublic, offshore, utility and VIP. Each mission type has three corresponding service levels, Turbomeca said. Pro covers all basic engine support requirements, Prime includes a series of added options, and Privilege is a comprehensive package of services.

Turbomeca USA increased its production rate from 50 engines in 2003 to 137 engines last year . Turbomeca said it has about 1,850 engines in the North American market, about 1,480 of which are operated in the United States. Turbomeca USA plans to expand its 85,000-sq.-ft. production facility in Grand Prairie, Texas to 195,000 sq.ft. and increase employment from 360 to 400 employees. The company said its goal is to increase the level of U.S. content in Arriel 2 and Arrius 2 engines to 100 percent. The company also plans to open a new TurboSupport Center facility this year in Lafayette, La., in 2005.

Honeywell has signed a teaming agreement with Soloy, LLC to develop a supplemental type certificate for installation of Honeywell's latest LTS101 turboshaft engine upgrade for the AS350B2 AStar helicopter.

"Honeywell's LTS101-700D-2 turboshaft engine is designed to provide more than a 14 percent take-off power improvement at sea level and 18 percent more power in hot day conditions," said Bob Miller, director, Honeywell Light Utility Helicopter programs.

The power gain comes from a new, cooled, gas-producer turbine assembly that increases gas producer disk life from 6,300 to 15,000 cycles, which helps reduce customer's operating costs. The LTS101-700D-2 also incorporates an updated and proven reduction gear-set that reduces accumulated power turbine cycles by 35 percent and increases torque limits by 6 percent, Miller said.

The engine footprint is identical to existing LTS101 versions, so current LTS101 operators can take advantage of the growth capability with no significant change to the installation or mechanical interfaces.

Soloy has already begun the new engine installation on a B2 Astar at its Olympia, Wash., facility. The company has more than 30 years experience in aircraft modifications and has completed numerous re-engine programs producing over 49 STCs with certifications in 29 different countries.

Soloy has begun taking orders for the AS350B2 upgrade, which that company is dubbing the "Super D2". Papillon Helicopters, which operates four "Super D" AStar helicopters with the LTS101-600A-3A engine, will be the launch customer for the new conversion.


Things Are Looking Up

Aviall Services, Inc. reported success with its Aviall LIFT (Logistics and Inventory Flight Team) program, which tailors inventory and logistics solutions tailor-made to individual helicopter operators' needs. The company said the program is an extension of its mission to provide increasing value to customers and suppliers alike. Aviall LIFT's goal is to assess an individual customer's needs, then provide solutions that offer the customer significant inventory efficiencies and direct operating-cost savings. Flagship customers include Air Methods, Keystone Helicopter Corporation and Rotorcraft Leasing are already experiencing noticeable benefits.

"LIFT has been a large part of our ability to continue to grow rapidly after our acquisition of Rocky Mountain Helicopters," said Archie Gray, vice president of Technical Services for Air Methods. "Relying on Aviall's forward stocking location here in Denver has afforded us the ability to limit some of our inventory costs." He said Aviall is supplying Air Methods with more than 2,500 part numbers on an as-needed basis. "This allows us to use Aviall as our second warehouse and buy parts only when needed for installation, which ultimately lowers our inventory holding and operating costs."

Rotorcraft Leasing, a Part 135 operator in the Gulf of Mexico, has doubled its business year over year and attributes a part of that success to Aviall LIFT.

"LIFT has bolstered our ability to meet customer demands because Aviall has the right parts on their shelves at the right time," said Lloyd Marks, Rotorcraft Leasing's president. He said inventory reductions have been a direct reflection of Aviall's "willingness to stock critical items" at its Lafayette, La. facility, less than 10 mi. from Rotorcraft Leasing's main hangar.

Keystone Ranger Holdings, the aviation private equity group formed and led by Steve Townes of Ranger Aerospace, topped just over $100 million in revenue in 2004. The group said it expects growth in 2005 to reach approximately $120 million, excluding any additional acquisitions that might be made. The milestone marks the second time Townes and his partners have led a segment consolidation venture's revenues to over $100 million in less than four years. Aircraft Service International Group, Ranger's previous venture, grew from less than $100 million in revenues in 1997, just before Ranger Aerospace acquired it, to roughly $180 million when the group sold it to a British conglomerate in mid-2001.

Townes formed Keystone Ranger Holdings in late 2001 to buy Keystone Helicopter. It since has acquired Composite Technology, Inc., one of the largest independent overhaulers of rotor blades in the industry

The combined rotorcraft enterprise's projected revenues of $120 million for 2005 would triple its pre-acquisition performance of $38.6 million in 2000. Grand Prairie, Texas-based CTI "will be an even stronger global player in the years ahead," Townes said. "They've made aggressive moves into new markets around the world and their rotor blade and composites capabilities fit right into our full line of rotorcraft services." CTI also has facilities in Winnipeg, Canada, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Singapore and Andover, England. The company performs manufacturer-approved repairs on rotor blades for almost every helicopter on the market, backed by licensing agreements with Agusta, Bell, Eurocopter, Kazan Helicopters, MD Helicopters, Schweizer and Sikorsky. CTI said it plans to move aggressively into new military and commercial markets.

At Keystone Helicopter, that company recently provided green completions on three A109E POWERS and two A119 KOALAS to Agusta Aerospace Corp., helping that manufacturer handle a strong surge in year-end 2004 orders.

Aerolineas Ejecutivas S.A. placed an order for two AgustaWestland A109 Powers and two Grand helicopters. Those orders added to the four A109 Powers sold in January to Mexican private customers.

Cineflex, LLC showcased its Helinet/Cineflex HiDEF aerial camera system in Anaheim. A unit of Helinet Aviation Services, Cineflex company claims the HiDEF is the world's lightest, gyro-stabilized high-definition aerial camera system and the first to capture and transmit aerial high definition images for live broadcast. Even at maximum zoom with a 40X lens, the company said, the image remains steady.

Recently deployed by the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Dept. to provide aerial surveillance during the city's New Year's Eve celebration, the HiDEF was used in the broadcast of this year's Super Bowl on FOX. The system has been used during broadcasts of NBA games on TNT and NFL games on FOX and CBS. The HiDEF is built around Sony's HDC-950 and HDC-F950 cameras and is the latest in Helinet/Cineflex's line of gyro-stabilized aerial camera systems. Users can broadcast live high-defintion images from thousands of feet up via an encrypted microwave downlink system.

Aero Propulsion Support, Inc. has set up a separate team strictly to perform continuous development of new repair processes and procedures for small gas turbine platforms. The Cincinnati, Ohio-based certified repair station also has developed a fast cell, or "speed shop," for quick turnaround repairs, such as metal spray/machine, weld repair, and quick braze only repairs. The company repairs and overhauls small gas turbine components for civilian and military applications.

In addition to their existing product lines of compressor diffusers, honeycomb seals, turbine nozzles, turbine shafts, compressor scrolls, pressure turbine and gas-producing turbine components, exhaust components and compressor shrouds, Aero Propulsion Support has added new capabilities this year, including fluoride ion cleaning, pack diffusion coatings and airflow testing.

Aero Propulsion is a Rolls-Royce Authorized component Repair Facility (ARF), a member of the 250 FIRST Network for the RR Model 250 engine and is also a General Electric, Honeywell and various other gas turbine OEM approved supplier.

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