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Sunday, July 1, 2012

Eurocopter Readies for First Upgraded EC130 Handover

Eurocopter sees the T2’s main competitors to be the Bell 407 and the in-development Marenco SKYe SH-09.

 

By Thierry Dubois

The EC130T2 features improved air conditioning, doors and seats, among other enhancements. At maximum cruise speed, it flies at 127 kts. Photos by Eurocopter

EASA certification of the Eurocopter EC130T2 light single—a major upgrade from the EC130B4—is imminent. The first example is scheduled to go to sightseeing operator Maverick Helicopters by the end of the year. FAA certification is expected in time for this U.S. delivery.

The Marignane, France-based manufacturer says it has listened to operators to improve the original EC130. The EC130T2 is being offered at a time when some operators are considering EC130 fleet renewal. When 12 years old, an EC130 needs a major overhaul. It is so expensive and time-consuming that replacement is a strong option.

Improving “details” such as air conditioning, doors, hook, seats, fuel tank, engine, etc. has involved modifying 70 percent of the airframe. The T2, however, looks like the B4. It has the same number of passenger seats—up to seven. So why not take advantage of the airframe changes to enhance aerodynamics or capacity?

“Keeping the aircraft’s shape is a way to keep its flight qualities unchanged,” answers Benoît Terral, operational marketing manager for aerial work customers. Therefore, the certification effort remains minimal and affordable. “It is just an additional line on the type certificate,” says Janick Blanc, vice president of light helicopter programs.

Moreover, for an EC130B4 pilot, type rating remains the same. Eurocopter recommends two days of training but they are not mandatory. Pilots and maintenance technicians can just read the manuals.

Externally, the only details that distinguish the T2 from the older version are three air intakes. Two of them, on the engine cowling, have triangular shapes. The third one is located just below the fuselage, on the right side, next to a landing light.

Although these changes look small, they speak volumes about one focus of the upgrade—ventilation and air conditioning. Sightseeing operators, for example, complained it was too weak for those temperatures found in the Grand Canyon area. Now, “we want to offer automotive standards,” Terral says. In the T2, more air outlets combine with an easier setting of cabin temperature. Air conditioning power has been boosted from 4.5 to 7.5 kilowatts.

Engine power has increased, too—from 847 to 952 shp. It can be used at full power, thanks to the Fenestron tailrotor, Terral explains. On the AS350 B3e, the same engine has to be derated because its conventional tailrotor can’t accommodate full power. The Turbomeca Arriel 2D turboshaft also has a 2 percent lower specific fuel consumption than the EC130 B4’s Arriel 2B1. This may allow Grand Canyon operators to avoid one refueling stop on their round trip from Las Vegas, Blanc estimates.

The Arriel 2D’s initial time between overhaul (TBO) will be 4,000 flight hours—up from 3,500 on the B1. Turbomeca hopes to bring this to 6,000 hours eventually.

The 2D features a “creep damage counter” to better predict maintenance. Some operators heavily use the full power setting; therefore, they have to replace the combustor and high-pressure turbine more often than the nominal TBO. The creep damage counter determines, in real time, creep deterioration of the blades. This can be read on an additional “usage” line on the engine health display. It indicates, for instance, the blades have reached 50 percent of their design life at 1,000 flight hours. “You no longer need in-depth inspections for this,” Terral says.

Under the engine cowling, a Turbomeca Arriel 2D provides 952 shp, up from 847 shp on the EC130B4’s Arriel 2B1.
The rear seats can now be easily removed, as opposed to earlier designs that had the seats mounted on a “box” for crashworthiness. Thanks to the airframe changes, the seats are now mounted directly on the floor. Removal, along with the front passenger seats, now takes 10 to 15 minutes, freeing up a flat floor area. In countries that allow emergency medical services (EMS) with single-engine helicopters, the EC130T2 becomes a quick-change passenger/EMS/utility rotorcraft. Another improvement is metallic doors with robust hinges, a response to operator complaints about reliability. Even with the changes, the new doors are lighter, Eurocopter says. The right-hand rear door is now a sliding door, just like the left-hand one. Now available as an option are hinged rear doors.

An active vibration control system, supplied by Lord Corp., has been adapted from the Super Puma family. It uses five accelerometers, feeding into a dedicated computer that also receives rotor input. The response is sent to magnetic actuators that counter vibration. Terral stated that the system couldn’t hide abnormal vibration.

In a demonstration flight for the media, test pilot Olivier Gensse turned the system on and off. It appeared effective, although a helicopter ride can’t be as smooth as that of an airliner.

The fuel tank has been made crashworthy with an aluminum fairing added around the flexible bladder. Now, it can resist a 50-foot drop when filled with 80 percent water.

Eurocopter anticipates cargo swing hook certification late next year, beefing up the EC130’s external load capability to 1.5 metric tons (3,300 lbs), from 1.16 metric tons (2,550 lbs) originally—even higher than that of the AS350B3 Ecureuil/AStar at 1.4 metric tons (3,080 lbs). Design engineers are currently devising a way to fold the hook when not in use.

The T2’s price is said to be only four percent higher than the B4. Eurocopter would not disclose any more numbers, but a source familiar with light helicopter prices said this would bring the T2 to about $3.1 million. Meanwhile, Eurocopter claims that direct maintenance costs are lowered by $10, resulting in a per-flight-hour cost of $324.

EC130T2 By The Numbers:

MTOW— 5,512 lbs
MTOW with external load— 6,724 lbs
Max Cruise Speed— 127 kts
Endurance (without reserve)— 4 hours

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