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Sunday, December 1, 2013

Bell 429 WLG, Personal Eurocopter EC145 Among NBAA Highlights in Las Vegas

By Ernie Stephens, Editor-at-Large

Ron Pratte’s EC145 at NBAA.
Exhibit hall at NBAA 2013.
The National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) 66th annual Conference and Exposition in late October drew thousands of attendees, more than 1,000 exhibitors and 97 display aircraft. Rotorcraft OEMs and systems providers represented at the show included Bell Helicopter, Eurocopter, Honeywell, Kaman Aerospace, Pratt & Whitney Canada, Robinson Helicopter, Rolls-Royce, Sikorsky and Thales.

Bell Helicopter used the event as the backdrop to introduce a version of its 429 with wheeled landing gear. The “429 WLG” is similar in design and appearance to the legacy 429, which was launched in 2009. The primary difference is the addition of a tricycle-style landing gear similar to those found on the Bell 430 and 222.

By adding retractable landing gear, the aircraft “is now able to taxi, giving [operators] the freedom of landing in a greater variety of conditions,” said Danny Maldonado, executive vice president of sales and marketing for Bell. “It also slightly increases the aircraft’s cruise speed, thanks to a reduction in drag.”

Robinson R66 on display in Las Vegas.
During the opening ceremonies, several well-known NBAA members were on hand to address the crowd, including actor and helicopter pilot Harrison Ford, U.S. Transportation Security Administration head John Pistole, and former secretary of the U.S. Treasury John Snow.

“NBAA has been hosting this event since 1950,” noted Ed Bolen, president and CEO of the association. “This is about sharing with the community and sharing with the world the really great news about business aviation; who we are, and why we matter.”

Instrument panel for a Sikorsky S-76C++.
Main landing gear on the Bell 429 WLG.
Eurocopter’s EC145 has been a popular aircraft in both the military and public service sectors. But Ron Pratte, a businessman and helicopter pilot residing in the Phoenix area, had one of the twin-turbine aircraft built for his own personal use. His EC145 was on display at the show. It was built in 2009 for a different customer. However, Pylon Aviation of Chandler, Ariz. acquired it on behalf of Pratte, and coordinated its retrofit to his specifications. Metro Aviation installed the avionics, and Arizona Aircraft Interiors completed the cabin. Doug Jeggers, a custom automobile painter, applied the EC145’s exterior scheme.

Other interesting people and products filled the one million square-foot exhibit hall in Las Vegas. Red Bull helicopter stunt pilot Chuck “Malibu” Aaron and friend Scott Urschel spoke to Rotor & Wing about a new product that was unofficially unveiled at the event. It’s a portable, handheld lithium-ion battery that can start a twin-engine helicopter through the aircraft’s external power jack.

Front view of the Sikorsky S-76C++ at NBAA.
The StartStick measures approximately 17 x 6 inches, and will start a turbine helicopter through its built-in connector. “This battery will start my twin engine BO-105!” proclaimed Aaron.

The three-day NBAA Convention drew a wide variety of professionals and companies involved in corporate air travel.

And although the majority of the exhibitors displaying aircraft and products in the Las Vegas Convention Center were primarily focused on fixed-wing aviation, helicopter manufacturers and suppliers were present from the rotary wing industry, including Robinson, which showcased one of its light, single-turbine R66s, and Sikorsky, which displayed an S-76C++ medium twin turbine. 

 

 

 

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