-T / T / +T | Comment(s)

Friday, June 1, 2007

The AS350 — Versatility and Power

With more than 4,000 aircraft delivered worldwide and 43 million flight hours, this Eurocopter family’s performance and mission versatility clearly have won over operators.

Ernie Stephens and James T. McKenna

In Eurocopter’s AS350, operators find an aircraft that can perform a great variety of missions, carry a multitude of equipment for them, and provide significant power in the process, even during hot and high conditions.

Like many helicopters today, it holds its value well on the used market.

As with all things, the family of aircraft known as the Ecureuil, Squirrel, and, perhaps, most commonly, the AStar is not without less favorable aspects, which we discuss below. But to sum up the results of this, Rotor & Wing’s first Operators’ Report, those who fly and use it consider the AS350 a great little aircraft.


This newest R&W special feature is the first in an ongoing series of reports focusing on particular aircraft types or families. Our objective with these reports is to provide a comprehensive picture of the rotorcraft in service today by talking with those who know them best: their owners, operators, pilots, and mechanics. We’ll share their thoughts on the type’s pluses and minuses, its utility and customer support, the modifications available for it, and the plans and options available to improve it from its manufacturer, major component makers, and outside vendors. We want to give you a clear picture of what it is like and what it costs to operate the type and its various models.

For this report, we started with a list of 75 AS350 operators provided by Eurocopter. To that, we added our own contacts among the Ecureuil operator community. We spoke with as many of those as we could reach to discuss their likes and dislikes regarding the aircraft.

You can find out more about the origin of the AStar at the bottom of this page. Here, meet the AS350, with the B2 as an introduction.

Like the other models, the AS350B2 runs 42.45 ft (12.94 m) from main-rotor tip to the upper tip of the vertical stabilizer. From nose to tail, the airframe is 35.86 ft (10.93 m) long. The top of the Starflex main-rotor hub is a half an inch shy of 11 ft tall (3.34 m). Standard skids put the belly just under 2 ft (0.59 m) off the deck. Those skids are 7.48 ft (2.28 m) wide; the exterior of the cabin is 6.14 ft (1.87 m) wide.

Inside, the passenger compartment is 5.41 ft (1.65 m) wide and 6.56 ft. (2 m) deep. The section behind the pilot’s seat is 2.95 ft deep. The cabin is 4.26 ft (1.3 m) tall at its highest point. Three cargo compartments—a large port-side one, a smaller starboard one, and one at the rear—provide 35.3 cu ft (1 cu m) of space; the rear compartment is biggest, at 19.95 cu ft (0.565 cu m).

The aircraft is designed to carry one pilot and five passengers in a standard configuration. It can be set up in a “comfort” version that seats 4-5 passengers or a high-density one that seats six. In its medevac version, it is set up to carry one pilot and two medical crewmembers, plus a patient on a stretcher. Set up to fly cargo, it has 105.9 cu ft (3 cu m) of cargo space, according to Eurocopter.

The B2 standard tank carries 143 gal (540 l) of fuel; an optional auxiliary tank can carry 125 gal (475 l).

Current-production B2s incorporate the Vehicle and Engine Multifunction Display (VEMD) developed for the B3. The dual-LCD screen replaces dedicated indicators and allows the pilot to see at a glance the main parameters of the aircraft and engine.

Eurocopter also has upgraded new B2s by replacing their electrical fuse panel with the circuit-breaker unit on the EC130B4.

The AStar’s three composite, main-rotor blades are mounted to the Starflex rotor head with spherical thrust bearings. That head makes extensive use of composites to improve corrosion performance (Eurocopter calls it “corrosion immunity”), impact resistance, and servicing. The tail rotor uses a flexible, glass-fiber beam for pitch changes. It has no bearing, requires no lubrication, and is an on-condition maintenance item, according to Eurocopter.

Standard avionics on the current-production AS350B2 and B3 include the Thales H321EHM gyroscopic horizon indicator, the AIM 205-1BL directional gyro, the UI 9560 turn-and-bank indicator, the Honeywell KX165A VHF/VOR/localizer/glideslope indicator, the Shadin 8800T altitude-encoding transponder, and the Kannad 121AF-H emergency locator transmitter. The standard avionics also includes Garmin’s GI106A course-deviation indicator, GNS430 VHF/VOR/localizer/glideslope indicator/Global Positioning System receiver, GTX327 Mode A and C transponder, and GMA340H intercom.

According to HeliValue$’s The Official Helicopter Blue Book, an equipped 2007 B2 lists for about $1.8 million and an equipped B3 for $2.425 million. “Equipped” means a navigation/communications suite, transponder, dual controls, heater, and flight instruments, The Blue Book says. For the B3, the price rises $400,000 if the equipment includes IFR equipment and certification.

Used AStar prices range from $259,000 for high-time, older models to almost $2 million for low-time recent models.

The AStar’s closest competitors are the Bell Helicopter 206-series and the MD Helicopters MD-500.

Eurocopter’s head of light helicopter programs, Xavier de la Servette, explained that the AS350’s mission sets are split among ones that are generally classed as utility (50 percent), para-public (25 percent), and passenger transport, VIP, and corporate

(25 percent).

In the utility area, he said, “I think we really have the lead aircraft. The B3 is the most powerful aircraft in the category, especially in high and hot conditions.” He said the aircraft can carry 3,080 lb (1,400 kg) on a hook. “You can link that to firefighting, hoisting, lots of different missions that need the capacity to carry heavy loads high and hot.”

He pointed to Eurocopter’s feat of flying a stripped-down B3 to land on the peak of Mount Everest—although the aircraft was only stripped down, company officials said at the time, as far as a commercial or para-public operator might strip it down. The structure, flight controls, and powerplant weren’t changed from the production configuration (though the pilot was given some leeway on engine margins. He also pared his own weight for the flight.)

In the law enforcement arena, de la Servette said, the AStar “is able to transport a lot of equipment—flir, radios, searchlight, rappelling kits. That gives police forces the flexibility to be able to go on missions without reconfiguring the aircraft.”

Some AS350s are used exclusively for passenger transport, de la Servette said, noting that the B2 was “the king of tour operations” until Eurocopter introduced the latest member of the Ecureuil family, the EC130. “That has become the leading aircraft for tours.”

The aircraft share the same flat floor and good visibility from every seat in the cabin. Eurocopter designed the EC130 to comply with more stringent noise restrictions in and around U.S. national parks, like the Grand Canyon.

Several air-tour operators agreed, saying the AS350 is great for that line of work, with an excellent field of view from the cabin, and good power, reliability, and safety.

For corporate operators, de la Servette said, the AS350 offers good visibility, forward-facing seats, “and the real possibility of speaking within the cabin.”

While military missions are more sensitive to power requirements and often require twin engines, the AS550 Fennec military AStar has earned a place in the market. Denmark and Singapore each fly it, for instance. Eurocopter is certifying it to fire guided rockets. It already is qualified to carry TOW anti-tank missiles.

Operators like a lot of things about the AS350. Foremost is

its performance. “It’s able to meet many different kinds of missions for different operators and under different conditions,” said Servette. That is key. “They are investing in our product to sell services or perform critical missions.”

The operators we spoke with agreed.

A representative of the U.S. Homeland Security Dept. involved in the operation of about 35 AS350s said the aircraft perform well. One EMS operator with two B2s and one B3 described the AStars as “fast and smooth” and found the aircraft’s quick start-ups and shutdowns “helpful in EMS operations.”

A power company in the U.S. Southwest with a B2 and B3 said the aircraft had “lots of power, the B3 in particular.” A law-enforcement agency that flies AS350B2s in the same region agreed. A central U.S. EMS operator with four B3s said the aircraft have plenty of power. “We love it, period.”

Operators particularly like the aircraft’s performance at high altitudes and under hot conditions. One law-enforcement operator who flies six AS350B3s in response areas up to 11,000 ft msl noted the aircraft’s power at those high elevations.

A key appeal of the AS350, de la Servette said, is its ease of maintenance. It is designed so that the pilot can do all checks up to the 100-hr inspection. “That means you can do a complete week of aerial work in the bush with only one pilot and

no mechanic.”

Several operators concurred.

An electronic newsgathering operator with nine aircraft considers the aircraft “very maintenance-friendly” and “put together well.” A law-enforcement agency in the U.S. Midwest described the AS350’s maintenance as great. A law-enforcement operator with two B2s said the aircraft’s maintenance access is good, “which equals less down time.”

Operators also generally like the AS350’s flight characteristics, reporting that it flies smooth for an aircraft with a three-bladed main-rotor system. An air-tour operator with 16 AStars, a combination of As, B2s, and B3s, called the aircraft “stable.”

Operators like things beside the AS350’s performance.

The air-tour operator with 16 AStars considers them “economical and cost-effective.” A law-enforcement operator appreciated the aircraft’s “reliable aircraft and engines.” An EMS operator with 10 aircraft, a combination of As and B2s, likes the aircraft’s low maintenance per flight hour.

One operator called the AS350’s cabin spacious, another “extremely spacious,” adding that the aircraft interior has “great visibility.” An official of a law-enforcement agency with six AStars concurred, saying the aircraft has good visibility “for all occupants.”

Law-enforcement agencies appear in particular to like the cockpit, which they said promotes good crew coordination and flight-crew training. Another law-enforcement operator with nine AStars, made up of As and B2s, noted that the cabin is “comfortable on long missions.” Yet another law-enforcement operator with six AS350s said they are “a good night-ops platform” and “great for insertions and extractions.”

AS350 operators reported some disappointments, as well. Some have questions about AS350 hydraulic failures, which we treat on page A10. Others cited the transition from hover

to landing.  A number said the AS350 can be “shaky” or “squirrelly” in that transition, which some observed can be a drawback in EMS operations. An official of one EMS operator with 10 AStars quipped, “That must be where it got the name Squirrel from.”

A law-enforcement operator said, “This complicates matters when landing on a dolly.”

Bruce Webb, chief pilot of American Eurocopter, acknowledged the AStar can be “slightly more difficult from 5 ft on down.” One school of thought links that to the fuel level in the 143-gal tank, which has no baffles. If your fuel is above 80 percent, the thinking goes, there’s not much room for it to slosh around in. Below 40 percent, there’s not much fuel to slosh around. In between, perhaps sloshing fuel rocks the aircraft a bit.

An official of one law-enforcement operator with three B3s and a fourth on order complained the aircraft “can’t carry quite as much as we had hoped with all of our mission equipment.” That can be as much an issue of the agency specifying the equipment as the aircraft’s performance.

An official of another law-enforcement operator that flies a few AS350As and several B2s said the B2s don’t have enough power “to carry full fuel on long missions” in temperatures of 100-110F (38-43C).

Several operators said the aircraft cabin doesn’t cool well on hot days. De la Servette said that is typically more a matter of third-party than Eurocopter equipment. “I would say I have less than 20 percent of my production that is fitted with air conditioning when it is delivered out of our line.”

The same EMS operator who called the AS350 “fast and smooth” said its medical crews found the cabin too cramped for EMS transports and patient treatment en route.

Operators did generally say Eurocopter’s product support has improved in recent years. “Parts are hard to get,” said the Homeland Security official. “But we know they’re working hard on catching up.”

“You never can be fully satisfied with your support,” de la Servette said. Eurocopter has increased its forecast of aircraft utilization, which in turn drives the calculation of what parts will be needed and when.

The company has set up a new logistics system for distributing parts, with three hubs—one in Paris, one in Hong Kong, and one in Dallas. “So we’re trying to have de-localized hubs, and already have quite a few parts available closer to the end customer.”

The company also is ramping up production. “We don’t have as many parts as we would wish,” he said, “but I think we are on the positive trend.”

Supporting aircraft on the ground (AOG) because of maintenance or parts problems is always a challenge. “Our policy is to use parts scheduled for production to get an aircraft back in flight,” de la Servette said. That sparks battles between manufacturing and product support people because pulling a part from the line disrupts production.

“If there is a fight between the different organizations, it would rise to my level,” he said. “If there is a real AOG, fully documented, I will always give it the priority.  But it is important that the AOG is fully documented. From time to time, customers consider they are in an AOG situation and are not necessarily so.”

An operator who failed to order key parts for scheduled maintenance may not pass the AOG test, for instance. “But at the end of the day, the point is clear. If it comes to my appeal, then I will give the priority to the AOG as long as the AOG is fully demonstrated by our product support people.”

In support, Turbomeca has room for improvement. “The biggest problem is with Turbomeca,” said one tour operator with six AStars. “They’re slow in parts

support. They have lengthy overhaul times. They’re slow in servicing

components.”

“We’ve made considerable efforts over the past few years and we’re incessantly striving to strengthen our after-sale support, improve the quality and performance of our products, and develop new cost-effective solutions,” Turbomeca said in a prepared statement. “Whether customers have one or more than a 100 helicopters, our commitment remains the same: to provide them with customized support services adapted to their evolving needs and to keep them flying.”

As a general rule, de la Servette said, Eurocopter has a policy of rolling AStar improvements for the current fleet into new-production aircraft as the improvements are signed off.

“The latest aircraft today embody modifications that have been done against earlier aircraft,” he said. “We keep the versions alive by incorporating improvements.” He said a recent example was installation of the Vehicle and Engine Multifunction Display in the B2.

AS350 Weights & Measures

    AS350 AllStar AS350B AS350BA AS350B1 AS350B2 AS350B3 AS350D
Source: HeliValue$’s The Official Helicopter Blue Book
Weights – lb(kg)
Empty Weight, Standard Aircraft 2.432 (1,103) 2,453 (1,113) 2,550 (1,157) 2,524 (1,145) 2,561 (1,161) 2,561 (1,161) 2,432 (1,103)
Max Gross Weight
  Internal Load 4,300 (1,950) 4,300 (1,950) 4,630 (2,100) 4,850 (2,200) 4,960 (2,250) 4,960 (2,250) 4,300 (1,950)
  External Load 4,630 (2,100) 4,630 (2,100) 4,960 (2,250) 5,400 (2,499) 5,512 (2,500) 6,172 (2,800) 4,630 (2,100)
Useful Load
  No Fuel 1,868 (847) 1,847 (838) 2,080 (943) 2,236 (1,055) 2,399 (1,088) 2,399 (1,088) 1,868 (847)
  Full Fuel 916 (416) 895 (406) 1,141 (517) 1,374 (623) 1,460 (662) 1,447 (656) 916 (415)
External Load 2,000 (907) 2,000 (907) 2,000 (907) 2,557 (1,024) 2,557 (1,160) 3,086 (1,400) 2,000 (907)
Range – nm (km)
Max Fuel 416 (770) 396 (733) 396 (733) 340 (630) 362 (670) 362 (670) 416 (770)
Max Payload 296 (548) 273 (505) 370 (685) 340 (630) 362 (670) 362 (670) 296 (548)
Aux Fuel, No Reserves 785 (1,454) 745 (1,380) 747 (1,383) 641 (1,187) 683 (1,265) 683 (1,265) 785 (1,454)
Endurance (hr)
Standard Fuel, No Reserves 5.0 4.4 4.55 4.55 4.5 4.5 5.0
Engine - shp (kW)
Mfr/Model Rolls-Royce 250-C30P Turbomeca Arriel 1B Turbomeca Arriel 1B Turbomeca Arriel 1D Turbomeca Arriel 1D1 Turbomeca Arriel 2B Honeywell LTS101-600A3
Takeoff Power 650 (485) 641 (478) 641 (478) 684 (519) 732 (546) 848 (632) 615 (456)
Max Continuous 557 (415) 591 (441) 591 (441) 603 (450) 625 (466) 730 (545) 590 (440)  

AS350 Performance

  AS350B2 AS350B3
Source: Eurocopter
Max speed (Vne) – kt (kph) 155 (287) 155 (287)
Fast cruise speed – kt (kph) at max continuous power 133 (246) 140 (258)
Recommended cruise speed – kt (kph) 122 (226) 127 (2350)
Fuel consumption at recommended cruise - lb/hr (kg/hr) 324 (147) 342 (155)
Rate of climb - fpm (mps) 1,675 (8.5) 1,979 (10.0)
Hover in ground effect ceiling, at takeoff power
ISA – ft (m) 9,850 (3,000) 13,285 (4,050)
ISA +20C – ft (m) 7,050 (2,150) 10,675 (3,255)
Hover out of ground effect ceiling, at takeoff power
ISA – ft (m) 7,550 (2,300) 11,200 (3,415)
ISA +20C – ft (m) 4,250 (1,300) 8,480 (2,585)
Service ceiling – ft (m) at 200 fpm (1 mps) rate of climb 15,100 (4,600) 16,630 (5,070)
Range – nm (km) without reserve at recommended cruise 360 (666) 359 (665)
Performance values are for an aircraft operating at a gross weight of 4,960 lb (2,250 kg), equipped with a new engine, in a clean configuration, with the optional Low skid landing gear with two single footsteps, at sea level, International Standard Atmosphere (ISA), and zero wind.
Max altitude – ft (m) pressure alt 20,000 (6,100 m) 23,000 (7,010 m)
Max temperature ISA + 35C, limited to 50C Same
Min temperature -40C Same
Live chat by BoldChat