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Monday, August 1, 2005

Bringing Home the Bacon

James T. McKenna

FOR JUST ABOUT A WEEK IN JUNE every two years, the aviation world is focused on the ramps and runways at the heart of Le Bourget.

At that famed airport outside Paris where Charles Lindbergh completed the first solo transatlantic crossing nearly 80 years ago, the latest in fighters, airliners, private aircraft, gliders and helicopters swoop and dive twice each afternoon during the biennial Paris Air Show. Few that crowd the static displays and chalets to view the parked aircraft and those soaring above them notice the small control tower at the far eastern end of the airfield.

Just two stories high, the building is barely visible from "show center," and even close up it is hard to recognize it as a perch for air traffic controllers. Elsewhere at the air show, executives of helicopter manufacturers are focused on the pomp and glitz of highlighting their newest products, trumpeting big orders and entertaining VIPs. Their efforts at Paris Air Show 2005 are reviewed below.

Here at the facility known as Le Bourget Helicol, however, sales people and pilots are focused on one thing: proving the value of their aircraft to potential customers.

The Helicol is the nexus of helicopter customer demonstrations during the Paris Air Show. At this year's show, Bell Helicopter had a 407 and 430 flying demo flights all day every day for most of the week-long event. Eurocopter, which has a rotor-spin facility adjacent to the heliport, had more than a half dozen aircraft doing such flights.

Operations from the heliport offer the opportunity to spend much of the day away from the air show crowds, flying over picturesque French countryside and working with Dwayne Williams, Bell's chief pilot, described as highly competent and very collegial French air traffic controllers.

"These are pretty friendly confines to be working in," said Williams, who took this writer along for a flight in the 407 to explain the procedures, course and destination for the demonstration flights.

(Depending on the decisions of a manufacturer's air show planners, operations at the Helicol can offer another, invaluable advantage: the chance for pilots and company representatives -to avoid problematic commutes from Paris proper by the area's packed highways or railways controlled--and at times disrupted--by temperamental unions.

This year, Bell's pilots lodged near senior company executives in western Paris. They and those lucky enough to catch rides with them could fly to and from a heliport near their hotels to the air show. Eurocopter's flight crews stayed in the opposite direction, to the east near Charles de Gaulle International Airport. They had a relatively easy commute, but other Eurocopter officials were consigned to work their way through rush-hour traffic to and from Le Bourget each day.

At the conclusion of one day's events, the Bell 430 flew down the commuter rail tracks toward Paris. As he approached the village of Le Bourget's train station, packed with sweaty air show exhibitors and attendees waiting in the hot sun to squeeze onto packed trains for Paris, the 430's pilot began flashing his landing light, knowing that a good number in that crowd would be looking up.)

Air traffic controllers try to keep a tight rein on flight operations at Le Bourget, and for good reason. In addition to the twice-daily air show demonstration by a variety of aircraft, including high-performance ones, Le Bourget is within 10 mi. of Charles de Gaulle Airport and under its approach and departure paths. Also, the area immediately surrounding Le Bourget is heavily populated.

For these and other reasons, including security requirements, controllers place many restrictions on flight operations during the air show. They generally want demonstration flights scheduled at least 24 hr. ahead of departure. Still, said Mort Meng, Bell's chief demonstration pilot, controllers at the Helicol are flexible and accommodating to flight requests with shorter lead times. They also know their stuff, Williams said.

"This lady is crackerjack," he observed of the controller who answered his call of "Helicopter one-one-three at Yankee Nine for startup, destination Meaux."

The controllers work in a cab atop a row of several connected, air-show style chalet structures at the eastern end of Runway 9/27 that serve as customer lounges and operations centers for the companies conducting demo flights. Around them on three sides--to the west, north and east--parking spots are marked in the grass fields. Also marked with white paint and white stone slabs are the center lines of taxiways from the two landing areas, designated Heliport North and Heliport South. This set-up allows controllers to launch aircraft departing for the demonstration area from the north pad and land ones returning from their on the south side, keeping the traffic flows separated.

The outbound course takes you to reporting points at a group of white warehouses and stores south of the airport at Le Blanc Mesnil and the intersection of a highway and rail line at Aulnay, then east along the rail line to Mitry le Neuf and beyond that to a mining pit at Jabline, where you contact the tower at Meaux. Shortly after that turn to the east along the rail line, the crowded city streets below give way to villages and farmland.

Meaux is a small airport in the countryside with four grass runways in parallel sets of two. The ATC schedule gives each flight 20 min. alone at the airport to demonstrate an aircraft's capabilities, Williams said. Two aircraft can use the field at the same time if they are from the same company, he said. Meaux is reserved for demonstrations of civil aircraft, he added. Military ones do demonstration flights at Criel, which is one of two places in France where Brie cheese is made. It also is the site of the headquarters of the French air-defense and special-operations commands.

The French names of the reporting points to and from Meaux can be challenge for a group of pilots from Texas like Bell's, Williams said. So they have come up with a system of "Texas translations" of the names. For readers who do not speak French, Meaux is "moe." Mesnil is "may kneel." Aulnay is "ol'knee." Mitry is "me tree," and Jabline is "jaw bleen."

Even if other pilots are speaking French, however, it is easy to pick up the reporting points in their conversation with controllers. The controllers' English was very good.

Back at the more popular side of Le Bourget, helicopter manufacturers and vendors were busy, too.

AgustaWestland reported that the first A119 Koala manufactured on its new production line at Agusta Aerospace Corp. in Philadelphia had made its first flight. Agusta Aerospace opened that facility on Oct. 29, 2004,

AgustaWestland also said it had delivered an A109 Power to the government of the Rajasthan for VIP transport of government executives in one of the largest states in India. The company also signed a commercial agreement with DEFTECH of Malaysia under which DEFTECH will build a facility to customize, maintain and repair the commercial range of AgustaWestland helicopters. AgustaWestland and DEFTECH will cooperate on future program such as the coast guard, army tactical transport and air force combat SAR helicopter requirements.

Bell Helicopter formed an alliance with Taiwan's Aerospace Industrial Development Corp. to establish a Bell-certified maintenance center in Taichung, Taiwan. The center will further strengthen Bell's services to the Taiwan army and will create a new capability at AIDC for upgrades, system modifications, testing and maintenance of Bell military helicopters, including AH-1Ws operated by the army. It also could be the foundation for introduction and possible co-production of the AH-1Z and UH-1Y for the army there.

Bell also announced its purchase of the maintenance and overhaul assets of US Helicopter, Inc. to bolster the service aspects of its bids to win competitions for the U.S. Army's Light Utility Helicopter and Armed Reconnaissance Helicopter programs. A privately-held company, US Helicopter provides depot-level maintenance and upgrade installations for a variety of Bell's government products. Its assets will be integrated into Bell's government support affiliate, Bell Aerospace Services, Inc.

Bell and its partners at AgustaWestland expected the No. 1 Bell/Agusta Aerospace BA609 civil tilt-rotor, which returned to flight test June 3, would have completed the conversion to full airplane mode at Bell's XworX facility in Arlington, Texas during the air show. It did not, and program officials stressed that they were being very conservative in moving through flight testing. Still, a month after the show there was no word from either company about airplane-mode flight by the BA609.

BA609 No. 2 is at Agusta's assembly and flight testing facility in Italy, where tests are progressing in support of Aircraft No. 1. No. 2 is slated to make its first flight during the fourth quarter, program officials said. BA609 No. 3 is to be shipped to Italy later this year. Bell/Agusta will produce a total of four prototype tilt-rotor aircraft for flight-testing in the U.S. and Italy to earn the Transport Category IFR certification status. The dual flight test effort now supports the dual production line plans for parent company facilities in the US and Italy.

Eurocopter agreed to create a joint venture with H鬩copt貥s Guimbal to develop, produce, market and support helicopter unmanned aerial vehicles. The company, Vertivision, will first develop a UAV based on H鬩copt貥s Guimbal's Cabri two-seat civil piston helicopter, which made its maiden flight March 31.

Eurocopter President Fabrice Bregier also said the company has pulled out of a project to jointly produce the Mil Mi-38 with Russia "in good faith with our Russian partner." Eurocopter now will set up a sales office in Moscow to support Eurocopter products in Russian.

Eurocopter also plans to open a new subsidiary in China with a Chinese partner, AVIC II, pending the approval of the Chinese government, and continues to pursue possible joint development of a 6-7-ton helicopter. "We hope to launch that this year," Bregier said.

FLIR Systems, Inc. won a subcontract from General Dynamics Canada for delivery of the latest generation Star Safire airborne multi-sensor imaging systems with multi-year in-service support. The systems will be used for the Canadian Department of National Defence Maritime Helicopter Project. The total subcontract value, including potential option awards, is in excess of $20 million. Deliveries are to start within nine months of contract award and continue until 2009.

General Dynamics Canada has the responsibility, as integrated mission equipment manager, to integrate the multi-sensor systems into Sikorsky H-92 helicopters (designated as the CH-148 Cyclone by the Canadian Forces). The systems will support maritime missions that include surface and subsurface surveillance, personnel recovery (search and rescue), and drug interdiction. The systems selected offer forward growth capabilities; a variety of other payloads can be easily installed as the diversity of missions expands for the H-92 platform.

Sikorsky Aircraft said it had signed a memo of understanding with the government of Turkey for 12 new S-70B Seahawk helicopters, with an option for five more. First deliveries are scheduled to begin in 2008. Sikorsky had previously delivered eight S-70Bs to Turkey and its Land Forces also operate more than 100 S-70A Black Hawks.

The S-70B is an international derivative of the U.S. Navy SH- 60B Seahawk. The S-70B has a fully integrated glass cockpit with smart multifunction liquid crystal displays and a mission management system. Its flexible mission package includes dipping sonar, ESM, FLIR, multi-mode radar, ASE, and Penguin and Hellfire missiles. Multi-mission capable, the S-70B can perform search and rescue (SAR), medical evacuation (medevac), surveillance, vertical replenishment (vertrep), and utility missions.

Other international Seahawk customers include Australia, Greece, Japan, Spain and Thailand. Sikorsky is also under contract to deliver six S-70B Seahawks to Singapore beginning in 2008.

Smiths Aerospace reported it had won contracts to provide new-generation cockpit voice and data recorder systems for the U.S. Army's 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment MH-47 Chinook, MH-60 Black Hawk and U.S. Coast Guard HH-60 Jay Hawk and HH-65 Dolphin helicopters. The combined value for the contracts is more than $4 million, with deliveries to be completed this year.

Smiths also won a $5-million U.S. Army contract to install and demonstrate the value of a health and usage monitoring system (HUMS) on UH-60L Black Hawk helicopters. Smiths facilities in Southampton, UK and Michigan, USA will design, manufacture and install the equipment, as well as provide on site training and support.

The system is to provide the capability to acquire, store and process aircraft structural, engine, drive train, electrical and voice data. A crash survivable cockpit voice and flight data recorder will further aid aircraft incident prevention and investigation. Smiths has HUMS fielded on more than 20 helicopter types and has in excess of 1.5 million flight hours.

Turbomeca is moving forward to plans to bolster its worldwide customer support capabilities. The manufacturer is opening four new TurboSupport Centers in Europe, Asia, South America and North America. A facility in Scott, La., which opened June 30, serves the Gulf of Mexico offshore support industry as well as other regional helicopter operators. A center in Sao Paolo, Brazil, one of the world's busiest areas for civil helicopter traffic, is to be fully operational Aug. 30 and will support a fleet of nearly 200 Turbomeca engines in service in the area.

A center in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia will open later this year to support the Malaysian army, which has selected the Arrius 2K2 engine for its light utility helicopters, as well as other Malaysian customers. The fourth center is in Geneva, Switzerland.

Turbomeca also said its affiliate CGTM and its partner PALL Aerospace gained a European Aviation Safety Agency supplemental type certificate for installation of a new, enhanced dynamic engine air particle separator on all types of AS350 helicopters to improve the protection of Arriel engines.

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