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Sunday, January 1, 2006

Rotorcraft Report

MILITARY

Elbit To Upgrade Bulgarian Helicopters

Elbit Systems Ltd. will upgrade 12 Mi-24 combat helicopters and six Mi-17 transport helicopters for the Bulgarian Ministry of Defense under a 57.3 million ($67.2 million) contract. The upgrade is to take the Bulgarian helicopters up to NATO standards and expected to be completed within three years. Elbit said that it will be upgrading the helicopters in participation with Bulgarian aerospace and defense industries.

Elbit on Dec. 2 signed a 57.3 million euro (approximately $70 million) contract for a helicopter upgrade program with the Bulgarian Ministry of Defense. The entry into force of this contract is subject to several standard matters that are anticipated to be completed shortly. This program was the subject of previous announcements by Elbit Systems on December 21, 2004 and March 10, 2005.

The program includes upgrading 12 MI-24 combat helicopters and 6 MI-17 transport helicopters, to comply with NATO standards. The program is expected to be performed over a three-year period. It will be executed with the participation of Bulgarian aerospace and defense industries.

Elbit Systems has extensive experience in the area of helicopter upgrades and has performed numerous major helicopter upgrades of both western and eastern origin platforms. The Company's advanced avionics are currently operational onboard thousands of helicopter platforms in the fleets of the Israeli Air Force, the United States Air Force and other defense and civilian helicopter operators worldwide. This includes recent contracts to upgrade helicopters of various Central European Air Forces, resulting in compliance with NATO standards.

Joseph Ackerman, President and CEO of Elbit Systems said: "We are pleased to have signed our first helicopter upgrade contract in Bulgaria. I believe that our proven expertise and experience in the area of helicopter upgrades, coupled with the cooperation of our customer and Bulgarian industries, will result in a successful program for the mutual benefit of the Bulgarian Air Force and Elbit Systems and will reinforce our strong relationship with the Bulgarian Ministry of Defense."

CIVIL

Eurocopter Plugs Gap in Product Line With China Deal

Eurocopter has finally moved to plug a long-standing gap in its product line, signing a pact to develop its next helicopter, the 6-to-8 tonne EC175, with Chinese industry. This EC175 will compete head on with the AgustaWestland/Bell Helicopter AB139. Both its launch and AgustaWestland's November buyout of Bell's stake in the AB139 confirm that the 6-8 tonne market segment is widely seen as a highly profitable one for the next 20-30 years.

Signed in Paris Dec. 5, the agreement commits Eurocopter and China's AVIC II aerospace group to each invest 300 million euros to develop the aircraft and to evenly share its technology, intellectual property rights and production. Eurocopter officials said this is the first time such an ambitious co-development program has been signed with China, adding that it reflects their commitment to an ever-closer relationship that nation.

Eurocopter CEO Fabrice Br�gier told Rotor & Wing the Chinese production line will focus on aircraft for the local market and a few other countries. Production for the international market will take place at Eurocopter's Marignane, France facility. He stressed that the EC175 is being developed for the civil market, "with no military implications," although he noted the European Union arms embargo on China only bans lethal equipment. Br�gier said he expects about 800 EC175s will be sold over 20 years, with as many as 100 a year in the middle of the next decade. He estimated the program's value at $10 billion.

Officials of EADS, Eurocopter's corporate parent, insisted they would keep tight control of technologies transferred to China under this agreement and a much larger one involving Airbus. But AVIC II's equal share of the EC175 program will make transfers much more difficult to monitor and control, leaving open the possibility that China might acquire the capability develop its own versions of the EC175, or indeed other helicopters. China today makes Dauphins and EC120s under license and is a risk-sharing partner in the EC120. The much larger, more advanced EC175 obviously provides greater scope for technology drain.

Plans call for the EC175 to fly in 2009 and gain certification in 2011. The EC175 is be fitted with the very latest cockpit and avionics technology, the five-bladed Spheriflex main rotor and a high-energy-absorbing airframe. It is to be certified for two-pilot IFR and single-pilot VFR operations when carrying up to 16 passengers, and is to have a range of about 400 nm. at a speed of 150 kt. The partners said nothing publicly of an engine selection, but at least two will presumably be offered. It is logical to assume the one for the Chinese market will at least be assembled locally, with local part-production a strong probability.--Giovanni de Briganti

Partners Split on AB139; AgustaWestland Keeps 609 Stake

Delays in fielding the BA609 civil tilt-rotor was one reason AgustaWestland ended its partnership with Bell Helicopter on the AB139 medium-twin.

"When we started, we were thinking to go into the market with the 609 and 139 together" and the joint Bell/Agusta Aerospace Co. selling both made sense, AgustaWestland CEO Guiseppe Orsi said. With the BA609's service entry delayed until 2010, "there was no sense to have a joint company selling a product completely manufactured in Italy."

Unhappiness with AB139 marketing was another reason AgustaWestland bought out Bell's 25-percent stake. (Terms weren't revealed, but AgustaWestland's keeping its 25-percent share of the 609 for now.) Of the change, unveiled Nov. 21, Orsi said, "We wanted to have a free hand to pursue our strategy" on the AB139. The company is adding space at Agusta Aerospace Corp. in Philadelphia for U.S. assembly of the twin, soon to be renamed the A139, starting in 2007.

The partners denied their competing bids in the U.S. Army's Light Utility Helicopter competition provoked the split. Bell built the 210 for that race, but had to field the 412 when IFR certification was required; AgustaWestland is offering the AB139. Still, AgustaWestland officials at a Rome conference expressed anger that Bell hadn't teamed with them.

The AB139's sales success hasn't yet included U.S. government orders. Perhaps Orsi and company will address this shortcoming now that their hands are free.

CIVIL

New MD Management Team Moves Swiftly

MD Helicopters' new owner is moving quickly to patch up the company's relations with customers and suppliers as part of her plan to make the Mesa, Ariz. company viable.

According to Lynn Tilton, founder of the New York distressed-debt investment firm Patriach Partners, which bought MD in July, she has spent millions of dollars above the purchase price to pay debts to suppliers, stock spares and restart the company's production line. In addition to restoring confidence among civil customers, Tilton is vying to convince the U.S. Army that the MD902 should be that service's new Light Utility Helicopter. The Army's looking to buy 320.

In mid-November, she struck a multi-year deal with Kaman Aerospace for that supplier to resume production of rotor blades, pitch cases and flex beams for the Explorer and other MD aircraft. The deal involved an immediate payment of $4 million and additional payments totalling $1 million through March 31. In 2005, Kaman had taken a $20.1-million write-off covering accounts receivable and inventory on MD programs, including the work now resumed and production of MD-500 and MD-600 series fuselages. Kaman said it doesn't expect resume the fuselage work.

In addition, Tilton's new management team of interim CEO Robert W. Ren� (a technology and manufacturing guru from Patriarch) and COO Randy Kesterson (a former Curtis-Wright Controls executive vice president) made two key hires.

David Oglesbee was lured away from Bell Helicopter (where he was director of marketing and sales for non-DoD government customers) to be vice president of sales. He was immediately dispatched on a tour to rebuild good will with customers. Some reportedly were impressed. MD also named Jeffrey L. Snyder as general manager of spare parts and service.

CIVIL

HAI Salutes Katrina Humanitarians, Whirly-Girls

The Helicopter Assn. International is honoring "all companies, organizations and individuals" who participated in the relief efforts following Hurricane Katrina with this year's Igor I. Sikorsky Award for Humanitarian Service. The award is traditionally given to an individual or individuals "who best demonstrates the value of civil rotorcraft to society by saving lives, protecting property and aiding those in distress." It will be presented during HAI's "Salute to Excellence" banquet Feb. 27, during Heli-Expo 2006 in Dallas, Texas.

In deciding to honor such a sweeping segment of the industry, HAI considered the vital role all the companies, organizations and individuals played in the rescue and relief operations in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. "The events associated with this relief effort were truly one of the helicopter industry's finest hours and clearly demonstrated that helicopters save lives," said HAI President Matthew Zuccaro.

HAI is honoring another large group this year, presenting the Agusta Community Service Award to the Whirly-Girls International. This award is to an individual or organization involved in the public use of heliports, advancement of the use of helicopters in urban area operations and the advancement of "Fly Neighborly" concepts. The Whirly-Girls is an international organization of 1,362 members that celebrated its 50th anniversary last year. Its goals are to promote the acceptance of rotorcraft through public awareness, promote the advancement of women in rotorcraft aviation, provide information on the employment of women in the helicopter industry and encourage the development of helipads. Other winners are on page 12.

MILITARY

Australia Chinooks to Get $25-Million Upgrade

Australia's Chinook helicopters are about to undergo a $25-million upgrade to ensure they are combat ready for future operations. The upgrade includes electronic warfare, ballistic protection and advanced communications gear.

In approving the upgrade, Defence Minister Robert Hill said, "This equipment will improve the safety and survivability of the aircraft, as well as its ability to work closely with coalition forces if needed," he said. The upgrade is planned as part of a rapid acquisition project to provide the Australian Defence Force with the flexibility to be able to deploy the aircraft to cover a wide range of contingencies.

The Chinooks are the largest helicopters in Australia and considered critical assets for the army. Six are based in Townsville, Queensland, used for transporting troops, heavy lift of equipment and supplies and medical evacuation.

"This upgrade will ensure they are equipped with the necessary protection and latest technology to be safely deployed in any future high threat security environment," Hill said.

The new equipment to be installed on the Chinooks will be acquired through a rapid acquisition tender process with Australian industry and foreign equipment suppliers.

MILITARY

HAL Defends Dhruv After Crash

Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd. is defending its Advanced Light Helicopter Dhruv after an apparent tail-rotor failure Nov. 29. All variants of the aircraft were grounded afterwards.

The pilot reportedly suffered the failure about 1100 local time while flying at 5,000 ft. near Karimnagar in the southern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh. He landed the aircraft safely. All six occupants were unharmed. HAL's rotary-wing chief test pilot, Wing Commander C.D. Upadhyay, was quoted as saying the failure was traced to a problem with that particular aircraft and was not common to the Dhruv fleet

"The accident has certainly proved the crashworthiness of the ALH," Air Marshal (Ret'd) K. Sridharan, president of the Rotary Wing Society of India, was quoted as saying.

MILITARY

Eurocopter/Sikorsky Team Readies for LUH Competition

EADS-North America (Defense) has amassed forces in pursuit of the U.S. Army's Light Utility Helicopter (LUH) competition for 320 commercial-off-the-shelf aircraft. The Army is using a COTS approach to drastically shorten procurement cycles that can last several years for military aircraft. The Washington-based arm of Eurocopter parent EADS, the company is bidding the EC145, designated the UH145.

The Army helicopters theoretically will be limited to domestic U.S. operations, with the goal of freeing up some 60 UH-60 Black Hawks and aging UH-1s and OH-58s often found at some active Army bases and in Army National Guard and Reserve units.

Since the prime bidder's responsibilities are far more than just the airframe, EADS-North America has teamed Eurocopter with Sikorsky to provide ongoing maintenance and logistic support for the UH145. Sikorsky's well-proven contractor logistics support of U.S. military and civil fleets enhances the EADS offering. Likewise, team member WestWind Technologies of Huntsville, Ala. brings proven and responsive Army helicopter systems integration capabilities to the offering. CAE USA, another experienced Army contractor that specializes in simulation and training, will provide procedures trainers and crew familiarization.--Ron Bower

MILITARY

Bell Opens New Repair, Overhaul Facility

Bell Helicopter has opened a new, $20-million repair and overhaul center to support its helicopters currently operated by the U.S. military. These are primarily the OH-58D Kiowa Warrior and AH-1W Cobra, but will also include the upgraded UH-1Y, AH-1Z and V-22 when they enter service within the next few years.

Key to the new facility is its improved efficiency of operation, which reflects the depth of cultural change spearheaded by CEO Mike Redenbaugh, the company said. The new facility went from concept to reality in eight months, four months ahead of schedule. It was designed using Textron's Six Sigma program, which is designed to eliminate waste and streamline tasks.

David Martin, the center's director, said that an example of the improved efficiency is that rotor blades that used to travel more than 1.6 mi. during the repair process now travel only about 300 ft. Martin added that overhead handling of blades has been reduced from seven times during repairs to two.

"This facility is a tool that will support the troops on the frontlines, but will also help to manage our business in a more efficient way," Martin said. "It will allow Bell to provide superior service at reduced cost and provide the long-term support that our customers are looking for."

Although designed to support military helicopters, the new facility will be certified as an FAA Repair Station.

MILITARY

U.S. Army Aviation Post Celebrates 50th Anniversary

Fort Rucker, Ala., home to both the U.S. Army Aviation Center and its newly designated Flight School XXI, celebrated its 50th Anniversary last October.

The military base started out as Camp Rucker in 1942 as a training camp for soldiers on their way to World War II. Following that war, the camp was simply evacuated, leaving behind the temporary barracks, empty and unused.

At the beginning of the 1950-53 Korean War, Camp Rucker was reopened as a training base for that conflict. However, the Korean War started a handful of forward-thinking Army officers looking at the true potential of the helicopter in combat. On Oct. 13, 1955, the newly designated Fort Rucker became a permanent Army installation, with the Army's flight training program transferred from the Air Training Dept. of the Artillery School at Fort Sill, Okla.

With the advent of the Vietnam War, flight training was split between Fort Wolters, Texas, just west of Fort Worth, for primary flight school, and Rucker, where advance flight training was done. Fort Stewart was later added for advanced aircraft type training. Then, in 1973, all flight training was again consolidated at Fort Rucker.

Last October, Fort Rucker reorganized its flight training program into Flight School XXI, a new concept in flight training in which students transition from the basic training stage in TH-67 helicopters (the trainer equivalent of the OH-58) straight into the UH-60, CH-47, OH-58 Kiowa Warrior or AH-64 Apache that they will fly once they have graduated and been assigned to their permanent units.

Fort Rucker has also become the Center of Excellence for Unmanned Aerial Vehicles.

MILITARY

Elbit To Upgrade Bulgarian Helicopters

Elbit Systems Ltd. will upgrade 12 Mi-24 combat helicopters and six Mi-17 transport helicopters for the Bulgarian ministry of defense under a 57.3-million euro ($67.2 million) contract. The upgrade is to take the Bulgarian helicopters up to NATO standards and is expected to be completed within three years. Elbit said it will be upgrading the helicopters in league with Bulgarian aerospace and defense industries.

Elbit on Dec. 2 signed a contract for the helicopter upgrade program with ministry of defense officials.

The signing came after Bulgaria's top court on Nov. 23 conclusively overturned the decision of Defense Minister Nikolai Svinarov to halt negotiations with the Israeli defence company. Bulgaria had picked Elbit in a December 2004 tender to modernise the aircraft through a consortium with Lockheed Martin. But Russian officials soon thereafter said Elbit did not have the manufacturer's permission to do the upgrades. Svinarov then broke off talks and Elbit went to court.

Elbit Systems has performed numerous major helicopter upgrades of both Western- and Eastern-built platforms. The company said its advanced avionics are currently operational onboard thousands of helicopter platforms in the fleets of the Israeli Air Force, the U.S. Air Force and other defense and civilian helicopter operators worldwide.

Elbit President and CEO Joseph Ackerman said: "We are pleased to have signed our first helicopter upgrade contract in Bulgaria. I believe that our proven expertise and experience in the area of helicopter upgrades, coupled with the cooperationof our customers and Bulgaria's industry, will result in a successful program."

CIVIL

Bell's Eagle Eye Gets First FAA Vertical Lift Experimental Airworthiness Certificate

The Bell Eagle Eye TR918 Unmanned Aircraft System has received the FAA's first airworthiness certificate issued for experimental flight testing of a UAV. The TR918 was developed by Bell's XworX facility at Arlington, Texas.

Bob Ellithorpe, Bell's director of unmanned systems, said the approval of the experimental flight certificate "is an example of government and industry teamwork" and was the results of a detailed plan executed over the last several months. "We are now cleared to take to the air and begin flight test operations. With this certification process, we can now demonstrate to the world the remarkable capability of a vertical lift, tiltrotor" unmanned Aircraft System.

The aircraft is aimed at both military and commercial operations, "with multiple capabilities ranging from homeland security to pipeline patrol," Ellithorpe said. "Ultimately, Bell's objective is to provide a family of unmanned systems that give our customers the means to more effectively accomplish their missions."

CIVIL

NTSB Urges Tighter Checks on S-76 Actuators

Investigators are reviewing past S-76 accidents for similarities to an Aug. 10, 2005 crash in Estonia in which failure of a main-rotor hydraulic actuator is suspected. All 14 persons on board were killed when the S-76C+ operated by Copterline of Finland pitched up, rolled left, rotated right and plunged into Tallinn Bay. Estonian authorities sent key wreckage to the U.S. NTSB for analysis. Investigators there found the forward main-rotor blade actuator contaminated with flaked-off coating from the hydraulic piston's face. The HR Textron actuator failed a manufacturer's acceptance test and moved uncommanded under certain conditions. Accident flight data is consistent with uncommanded extension of the actuator, according to the NTSB, which urged the FAA to require S-76 operators to immediately inspect main-rotor actuators. More info is at www.ntsb.gov/Recs/letters/2005/A05_33_35.pdf.

CONTRACTS

Sikorsky Aircraft Corp. received multiple contracts for its series of helicopters, to include a $69.4 million modification to a firm-fixed-price contract for "unique configuration" to the Black Hawk helicopters and a $14.4 million firm-fixed-price indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity option contract for the repair and overall for H-60 tail rotor blades.

Other contracts for Sikorsky include an $8.2 million modification to a previously awarded firm-fixed-price contract to extend the period of performance of the "Special Progressive Aircraft Rework" in support of the VH-3D/VH-60N Presidential Helicopter, a $13.8 million firm-fixed-price contract for the flight control panels for the UH-60 Black Hawk, a $7.8 million cost-plus-fixed-fee order against a previously awarded agreement for the cockpit upgrade program Phrase II for the VH-60N executive helicopter, a $9.5 million contract for UH-60 Black Hawk spare parts, a $9.7 million contract for overhaul and upgrade of the UH-60 CAT IV main rotor blades and a $5.4 million contract for overhaul of the UH-60L transmissions.

Northrop Grumman Systems Corp., Air Combat Systems is being awarded a $10.5 million modification to a previous contract to exercise an option for operations and maintenance support for the Global Hawk Maritime Demonstration, to include operation and sustainment, logistics support and sustaining engineering throughout the demonstration.

Jahn Corp. of Lexington Park, Md. is being awarded a $7.1 million modification to a previously awarded contract for advisory and assistance services to the V-22 program, to include management/administrative and resource/operations support, development/production analysis and technical services, and independent analyses, technical studies and management services.

General Electric Co. of Lynn, Mass. was awarded a delivery order of $160 million as part of a $2.43 billion firm-fixed-price contract to GE T-700 engine spare parts. The T-700 engine powers a major number of military helicopters, including the UH-60 and NH90.

DynCorp International of Fort Worth, Texas was awarded a $9.1 million delivery order as part of a $406 million contract for refurbishment of UH-1H helicopters.

PEOPLE

The Helicopter Assn. International has named the recipients of its 2005 "Salute to Excellence" awards. Dr. Walter B. Comeaux, Lafayette, La., is the recipient of the Lawrence D. Bell Memorial Award. David S. Whyte, vice president (ret'd), Alpine Helicopters Ltd., Kelowna, British Columbia, is the latest winner of the Joe Mashman Safety Award. John Holland, regional aviation director, Air Methods Corp., Macon, Ga., was named Pilot of the Year, and Ric Juve Forns, senior flight instructor, Bell Helicopter, Fort Worth, Texas, was named Outstanding Certified Flight Instructor. Other winners include: Robert A. Jones, aviation maintenance technician, Air Logistics of Alaska, Fairbanks, Alaska, who won the Aviation Maintenance Technician award; Bruce Currier, vice president of avionics, Evergreen Helicopters, Inc., McMinnville, Ore., who received the Aviation Repair Specialist award; Robert McMullan, chief pilot, West Michigan Air Care, Kalamazoo, Mich., recipient of the Eurocopter Golden Hour award; William Wagstaff, senior editor, Aviation International News, Midland Park, N.J., received the Excellence in Communications award; Gary Grage, senior technical specialist, Columbia Helicopters, Portland, Ore., won the Helicopter Maintenance award; Capt. Don R. Roby, Baltimore County, Md., Police Dept., received the MD Helicopters Law Enforcement award, and John Quackenbush, pilot for Hillcrest Aircraft Co. of Lewiston, Idaho, and Helicopter Express of Atlanta, Ga., won the Robert E. Trimble award. The awards will be presented at HAI's "Salute to Excellence" banquet and awards ceremony Feb. 27 at Heli-Expo 2006 in Dallas, Texas.

FlightSafety International has promoted Derek Maeer (left) to the position of vice president of simulation. Maeer joined FlightSafety in 1979 following a 20-year career in the U.S. Merchant Marine. During his 26 years with FlightSafety, Derek held a number of management positions in Simulation and Visual Systems and most recently served as general manager.

Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University has appointed Martin Smith (right) as the new chancellor of its Extended Campus. He will serve as chief academic and administrative officer of that campus, responsible for overall planning, resource allocation and program evaluation.

Optical Alchemy, Inc., a developer and manufacturer of ultra-light, inertial, stabilized sensor systems for UAVs, has appointed Jennifer Richardson to be vice president of engineering.

Canadian Home Rotors, Inc. has appointed Bruce Belfield as dealer for its Safari helicopter kit in Australia. He has already served as its dealer for Safari kits in New Zealand for the past several years.

The U.S. National Center for Advanced Technologies has named Michael Romanowski (left) as its new president. He succeeds Stan Siegel, who retired in December. Romanowski is currently vice president of civil aviation at the Aerospace Industries Assn. and will remain in that position while serving as president of the center. The national center has also named Stephen T. Fisher (right) to be executive director of its Next Generation Air Transportation System Institute. He is a former U.S. Marine Corps helicopter pilot who has served with the FAA as well as private technology companies.

EVENTS

Jan. 11-13--Assn. of the U.S. Army Aviation Symposium and Exhibition, Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center, Washington, D.C. Contact: Molly O'Shea, (703) 907-2401; E-mail: moshea@ausa.org; Website: www.ausa.org.

Jan. 18-20--American Helicopter Society International Vertical Lift Aircraft Design Conference, Holiday Inn, Fisherman's Wharf, San Francisco, Calif. Contact: John Davis, (650) 604-5375; E-mail: john.m.davis@us.army.mil.

Feb. 6-10--2006 Army Medical Evacuation Conference, Holiday Inn Riverwalk, San Antonio, Texas. Contact: LeNore Wells, (334) 255-1166; E-mail: lenore.wells@se.amedd.army.mil; Website: www.us.army.mil/suite/page/86394.

Feb. 26-28--HAI Heli-Expo 2006, Dallas Convention Center, Dallas, Texas. Wyndham Anatole Hotel. Contact Marilyn McKinnis, the Helicopter Association International, Alexandria, Virginia, (703) 683-4646; fax 703-683-4745; E-mail: marilyn.mckinnis@rotor.com; Website: www.rotor.com;

Feb. 28-March 1--FAA Aviation Forecast Conference, Washington, D.C. Convention Center, Washington, D.C. Contact: Linda Baranovics, FAA, (202) 267-7924; e-mail: Linda.baranovics@faa.gov; Website: apo.faa.gov/conference/welcome.htm.

April 9-12--AAAA Annual Convention, Gaylord Opryland Convention & Resort Center, Nashville, Tenn. Contact: (203) 268-2450; e-mail: aaaa@quad-a.org; Website: www.quad-a.org.

April 25-27--11th Annual MRO Conference, Phoenix Civic Plaza, Phoenix, Ariz. Contact: Beth Eddy, (800) 240-7645 or (561) 862-0005, Fax: (561) 862-0006; E-mail: beth_eddy@aviationnow.com; Website: www.aviationnow.com/conferences

July 18-23--Farnborough International Airshow, Farnborough, England. Contact: 44-20 7227 1043; E-mail: enquires@farnborough.com; Web-site: www.farnborough.com

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