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Wednesday, April 4, 2012

MD Uncovers ‘Lethal’ 540F

New helicopter for Army's AAS competition to feature Rolls-Royce engine, Elbit Systems cockpit and HUMS.

By Andrew Parker, Editor-in-Chief

After 15 years without unveiling a new rotorcraft, it only took around three months for MD Helicopters to pull together its latest offering—the 540F. An upgrade to the 530F, the new model will feature a Rolls-Royce engine, avionics from Elbit Systems and a six-bladed rotor system. The company plans to enter the 540F into the U.S. Army’s Armed Aerial Scout (AAS) competition, in addition to getting interest from international operators through the DoD’s Foreign Military Sales (FMS) program.

“This is really development at mach speed,” said CEO Lynn Tilton. “Three months ago, we went over to team up with Elbit Systems on flight display systems and new weapons systems. Together in three months, we were able to bring this new aircraft to life.” Tilton added that, “yes, it does fly. It is not a model, it is not a mock-up, and we hope that certification will occur in the first quarter of 2013.”

Lynn Tilton with the MD540F. Photos by Andrew Parker

She remarked that the MD540F represents the first new aircraft the Mesa, Ariz.-based company has launched since Patriarch Partners purchased MD in July 2005. Tilton is the sole principal and CEO of Patriarch, a private equity firm. She noted a recent U.S. military contract for six helicopters deployed in Afghanistan as a major milestone.

“We were able to come together,” Tilton said, “to serve a customer that means the world to us. We have long thought about bringing a more powerful scout helicopter to the market, and our success with the Army and the excitement of working together was the inspiration for the birth of this new aircraft.” Tilton described the 540F as a “lethal fighting machine.”

Carl Schopfer, chief operating officer, said that there are “many countries that could use this aircraft, for a couple reasons—not only is it extremely capable, but it’s also going to be very affordable for the rest of the world and the U.S. Army.” Schopfer described some of the features of the 540F. “We’ve added heavy weight landing gear to take us to over 4,000 lbs max takeoff gross weight,” he said.

MD integrated the Elbit system “just about 60 days ago,” he explained, with test flights taking place in the past 30 days. “We’re on a schedule to get it back up and flying within 45 days, following some basic aircraft work to do, and some integration work with Elbit.”

Elbit display (left) and temporary Garmin screens on the right.

In addition to cockpit avionics, Elbit will provide a weapons management system with a helmet display and tracking system (HDTS) and FLIR camera. The MD540F will also feature a health and usage monitoring system (HUMS). Plans call for the Rolls-Royce Model M250-C30HU to power the helicopter, but that could change to another model as development progresses. “We could keep the C30HU, or we could switch to a C47 base, which already has the FADEC in it,” he noted.

Schopfer said that the company’s newest helicopter isn’t in the same market as the Boeing AH-6, another competitor in the AAS program. MD Helicopter builds the airframes for the AH-6 in Mesa.

“There’s a market for both aircraft,” he claimed. “We don’t compete directly. Boeing looks at it this way: Our success is good for them too, because they’re not in our market. For us to be successful, it’s good for them—that’s what they’ve said.”

MD is aiming to have “everything done” by this summer. “We think the AAS requirement is in the September timeframe,” Schopfer said. “That’s based on what [the Army] said, they expect to release an RFI (request for information) sometime in late May or early June, and they expect to see flight in three months [after that].”

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