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Thursday, July 28, 2011

Turbomeca Quietly Builds In the U.S.; USCG Model Working Well

By Andrew Drwiega, Military Editor

Early this year the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) renewed its support-by-the-hour contract, which provides a fixed cost per engine per flight hour, with European engine maker Turbomeca. The OEM will provide modular maintenance and service support for all 244 Arriel 2C2CG engines in the USCG’s fleet of HH-65C helicopters spread over 18 Coast Guard stations.

During the Paris Air Show Russ Spray, President and CEO of Turbomeca USA based in Grand Prairie, Texas, spoke with Rotor & Wing about Turbomeca’s ongoing business support of the USCG. Turbomeca USA provides maintenance, overhauls, repairs and training across its range of the Arriel, Arrius, and Makila family of engines, modules, and accessories. It also assembles, tests and sells new engines and serves as a factory authorized TurboSupport Center providing light and deep maintenance, as well as designated parts replacement.

Earlier this year, the Coast Guard achieved a landmark by logging more than 500,000 flying hours with the Arriel 2C2CG engines. “It seems like only yesterday we began the re-engining of the HH-65 and they have now flown in excess of half a million hours. This is at a time of their first renewal of our support agreement which covers five years.”

Spray said that the Arriel engines “are giving more power to the HH-65 which is allowing it to do additional missions such as the Hitron mission and also performing high altitude search and rescue in mountainous areas on land.”

“With engines you are also technically upgrading the standard of the engine throughout its life during the overhauls,” said Spray. Over the contract period the HH-65s weight carrying capability has been improved. Spray added that this “affords them the ability to extract more people and bring the swimmer with them—on a few occasions they had to leave the swimmer.” Of course every situation is different and the number of people being rescued is also dependent on the distance the rescue is performed at and the time over the incident that the helicopter has available.

USCG maintains its own equipment on a daily basis. “The Coast Guard mechanics will take the engine off the airframe [at one of the 18 stations]. They will have spares at hand and will replace the engine with a spare within hours,” Spray noted.

“If required the removed engine will go to Elizabeth City, North Carolina, where it is demodularized. These are modular engines so the overhaul for repair could be only one of five modules in the engine. So they take that and send it to us—we repair it and send it back to them. They also have modules in stock and are already pretty self sufficient in what they can do.” Turbomeca is “set up for a throughput of up to 1,300 engines per year—to increase that we would need to add more test cells,” said Spray, but that would depend on a further growth in business.

In terms of training, Turbomeca still provides the training to the USCG engineers but there are additional sources of specialist training including to Bristow Academy and Eurocopter in Canada.

When asked about Turbomeca’s strategy for the U.S. market, Spreay said that at first it was necessary to familiarize the people in the Department of Defense about who Turbomeca was.

“I have thirteen-and-a-half years of military service and saw my first Alouette back in the early 60s and never saw another one for a long time. The strategy has been to build more resources in the U.S. for direct support of the customer from within the U.S. We have set up a manufacturing facility at Monroe in North Carolina and an industrial site in Dallas, Texas, where we do assembly and long-term MRO for the Coast Guard.”

According to its CEO, Turbomeca “tries to look ahead and coordinate with the airframer over future potential orders. The government doesn’t come to us and buy engines. They look at the airframe product and we are all trying to look ahead. Sometimes it is ‘chicken and egg,’ in that sometimes the evaluation of the engine power will dictate what the airframe looks like. Sometimes the airframe will dictate what the power needs will be.”

Spray added that the engine maker has established “a platform of three prototypes so we always have a platform of engines—not paper engines of what we might have in the future—but engines that are demonstrators and that demonstrate the technologies we have. It used to take three to five years to provide an engine for airframers—a long tooth—but now we can introduce engines very quickly and we are very reactive.”

End note: Turbomeca’s Arriel 1E2 engine powers the U.S. Army’s successful UH-72A Lakota.

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