Tuesday, February 1, 2005
How to Pick a New Aircraft
I'm writing in response to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency ordering the Eurocopter EC120 and the Bell 430 for border-patrol missions ("Eurocopter, Bell Bag Border Patrol Orders," November 2004, p.8). Once again, this story provides the readers with a crystal-clear example of a problem that continues to plague this industry.
Too often, the individuals making the decisions on what kind of aircraft to purchase either have no clue what they are doing or are just voluntarily blind to the obvious due to personal preference or how well they were treated by the sales folks from the manufacturer.
I remember back in 1997 or 1998 talking with some experimental test pilots from McDonnell Douglas Helicopters that were trying to accommodate the Border Patrol (in the face of the very bad decision to purchase the MD600) by shortening the height-velocity curve while increasing the maximum gross weight of the aircraft--two aspects usually in opposition to each other. They were doing touch-down autorotations with a lot of measuring equipment on board, and to say they were hitting hard understates what was happening.
Bottom line--bad decision on someone's part to even consider that aircraft without first putting it through its paces and finding out what kind of performance it had. I'm not sure whatever happened there, but I don't think they ever took delivery of the numbers they had originally opted for.
The Border Patrol's decision to use the 430 provided me with some much needed comic relief when I read the story. The 430 will disappoint them almost immediately. This is an aircraft that is well suited for sea-level operations at ISA, but not much more. It runs out of tail rotor around 7500 ft. density altitude--a figure that's easily seen during the summer in the areas they'll be operating it. Its hover-out-of-ground-effect ability is so severely limited, they will be doing running takeoffs and landings (if they purchased the gear-equipped model).
Perhaps it's just another example of the seemingly limitless number of operators out there that purchase aircraft based on the `wine-and-dine' factor, not on raw data or (more importantly) learning from those who already know more about an aircraft's abilities than what the manufacturer and its representatives claim.
In a related vein, while I enjoyed the humor in the picture of the "guarded" Schweizer aircraft at the Farnborough Air Show, what really had me laughing was the article about Bell and its bid for the Army's ARH/LUH program ("Warning--Heavy-Duty Stuff," December 2004, p. 7; "Bell Makes Bid for Army ARH/LUH Programs," p. 10).
It's interesting to see that Bell is still riding on the coattails of that shady deal struck back in the 1960s, when the Bell stock of Lady Bird Johnson (wife of U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson) influenced the Army to buy the OH-58, an aircraft that was clearly out-gunned in every way by the Hughes OH-6 of the time. So, many years later, Bell somehow manages to sell the same tired old designs as "new."
Bell is offering the 407 as the replacement for the OH-58D, "an aging airframe that goes back to the 1960s Vietnam era." Let's clarify: the 407 is the FAA-certificated version of the OH-58D. Both are modified 206L models with new rotors and engines.
Alan Moffatt says "the 407 can be outfitted with a variety of weapon systems." So can my Civic, but that doesn't make it a good street-fighter by any stretch of the imagination.
The 407 has also been touted by Bell as being the "sports car" of helicopters. Compared to a 206? Perhaps. Compared to anything else in its class? Hardly.
As for the 210, is it an FAA-certificated Huey II? If that is the case, why did Bell advertise that the Huey II could be had for $1 million per airframe upgrade, then tell the Army that the 210 is $2.95 million?
Good thing for Bell that they have such a loyal following that will purchase an aircraft solely based on the name, and not on its performance.
El Paso, Texas
CORRECTION & CLARIFICATION
The special advertising section, Annual Reports 2005, that appeared in the January issue, incorrectly listed contact information in the Company Profile of Heli-Dyne Systems.
The correct contact information is:
Heli-Dyne Systems, Inc.
9000 Trinity Blvd.
Hurst, TX 76053
Through an editing error, we failed to give credit to the individual who took charge of gathering, editing and providing to us the bulk of the Company Profiles and Executive Outlooks that appeared in that special section.
That work was done ably by contributing writer James Careless in Toronto. We thank him for that work and apologize for the omission.--The Publisher