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Monday, May 1, 2006

Be Careful What You Ask For

R&W Staff

With the exception of Frank Robinson, a common refrain at Heli-Expo was "I could sell every helicopter I can build. I just can't build them fast enough." Not that anyone's really complaining.

Heli-Expo 2006 in some ways felt more like an NBAA Show than the annual rotorcraft gathering. The exhibit floor was packed with attendees and most exhibitors reported a steady stream of high-quality visitors who were interested in more than kicking tires.

Everybody seemed to be busy, with manufacturers reporting booming sales and rising backlogs. The latter seemed to please no one, not sellers (who complained they could book more sales if their company could only build more helicopters) and not buyers (who have trouble getting new aircraft sooner than a year and face a dried-up used-aircraft market).

One exception to that might be Enstrom Helicopter President and CEO Jerry Mullins, who continues to push Enstrom's ability to deliver aircraft within 60-90 days of ordering.

Here's a round-up of other happenings at Heli-Expo.

Bell/Agusta Updates BA609 Program

Bell/Agusta Aerospace Co., the remaining joint venture between Bell Helicopter and AgustaWestland, reported on the progress of its BA609 civil tilt-rotor program, billing the aircraft as "not only the world's first civil tiltrotor aircraft, but the fastest civilian VTOL on the planet."

"Aircraft No. 001 continues successful envelope expansion of torsional and aeroelastic stability. Handling qualities are excellent at all conditions tested and all nacelle angles. Gross weights to date range from 13,500 to 15,700 lb. Airspeed achieved to date is 277 kcas (319 mph). Altitude achieved so far is 14,500 ft. Hp.

"The BA609 exceeded the planned flight test points for 2005. Measured noise levels are better than expected both internal and external with no added suppression installed. Outside noise is like that of a passing high-end luxury car, internal is the same as a Citation VII.

"Aircraft No. 002 is scheduled for first flight by the third quarter of this year in Italy. Total flight hours is 62 and total run time of 162 hr..

"Key successes in the initial BA609 certification testing phase included: over 38,000 equivalent flight hours on full scale wing, over 54,000 equivalent flight hours on flaperon, pressurization tests passed for aircraft No. 001 to 25,000 ft., and bird strike tests passed for fuselage, wing and tail.

"There are currently four planned BA609 flight test aircraft. Aircraft No. 001 will remain in Texas for flight-testing, while No. 002 is being constructed in Italy. Aircraft No. 003 will be used to conduct icing and other certification tests, while aircraft No. 004 will be used in certification, test and development work in avionics. Aircraft Nos. 003 and 004 are due to be completed in 2007.

"Aircraft No. 002 is schedule for completion and first flight in 2006. At that time, flight-testing will continue in tandem in the United States and Italy.

"To date, the BA609 order book stands at approximately 60 aircraft orders. Results of an in depth market analysis, including customer interviews show the market continues to be excited about the unique value and mission possibilities the 609 will bring to short-haul commercial air transportation. And our customer confidence has remained high throughout our development phase. BA609 tiltrotor promises to be a growth alternative for the market, allowing mission profiles and scenarios not previously possible with conventional airplanes or helicopters.

Helicopter Blue Book Goes Worldwide (Web)

The Official Helicopter Blue Book reported it had completed its evolution into an internet-based publication. Sharon Desfor, president of HeliValue$, which publishes the book, said, "After 27 years in paper and CD-ROM, we've transferred the entire publication to the web. Our subscribers are very pleased with the move to the internet, which affords them instant access to the most up-to-date information. The old 60-to-90-day delay to bring information through the publication and shipping stages has been reduced to a little as 6-9 hours for research, confirmation, and internet publication."

The Blue Book website, www.helivalues.com, will host five sample models available to the general public, in addition to the complete Official Helicopter Blue Book behind the subscriber access login.

AFS Filter Lands On Bell's New 417

Bell Helicopter has picked Aerospace Filtration Systems, Inc. to provide a fully integrated high-performance inlet barrier filter system for its new Bell 417 as part of the FAA type certified design, as well as for the U.S. Army Armed Reconnaissance Helicopter (ARH).

AFS has teamed with Donaldson Co. to develop industry-leading solutions for new and retrofit inlet barrier filtration systems for helicopters. The AFS/DCI team will pursue development of both commercially certified and military qualified filter assemblies that use a new Donaldson proprietary dry filter media and a durable new oiled media.

New-development filters for the Bell 417, AS350, Agusta A119 and several military helicopters are being considered from the initial design phase to incorporate the dry media. The dry media simplifies service with the use of compressed air or an environmentally friendly cleaning solution and water, eliminating the time and attention required to dry and re-oil filters. The team will evaluate existing applications for retrofit as time allows within the regulatory approval process, making the dry media solution available to customers in the future. The majority of AFS systems will be offered with oiled media as a baseline and an option for the dry media, depending on customer preference and design requirements.

"Use of a new dry media, only available from the industry experts at Donaldson, will provide operators a more simplified and environmentally friendly servicing option," said Michael Scimone, president of AFS. "The new dry media will be integrated on development systems and is planned for retrofit to existing systems based on the needs of the application. For those applications where oiled media is the most viable solution, an oiled media will be employed."

Sikorsky Helps Bristow Launch New Brand

Steve Finger, in his last industry appearance at Sikorsky's president (he was promoted after the show to president of Pratt & Whitney) help valued customer Bill Chiles, CEO of Bristow Group, launch that new brand.

Finger presented Chiles with a framed letter commemorating the 1980 S-76 speed record from London to Paris in a Bristow S-76A, as well as an S-76 model painted in Bristow's new colors. Bristow Group, Inc., formerly Offshore Logistics, Inc., unveiled its new corporate name and logo at Heli-Expo in a ceremony at the Sikorsky booth.

In conjunction with the name change, the company changed its common stock symbol on the New York Stock Exchange from "OLG" to "BRS."

"We are rebranding the company as Bristow Group Inc. as a way of outwardly expressing the internal changes we have been making over the past year to build a more unified service organization," Chiles said. "These changes will help us expand our global reach involving the strategic allocation of assets and capital, as well as modernize and standardize our business practices and operations worldwide.

AgustaWestland Logs Orders

AgustaWestland bagged some significant orders leading up to Heli-Expo. Mitsui Bussan Aerospace of Japan signed a contract, valued at US$100 million, for 12 AW139s and became an exclusive distributor for the AW139 in Japan. The first aircraft under this contract will be delivered in 2007.

That order was in addition to the three AW139s already ordered by Mitsui Bussan Aerospace, of which the first has been delivered to Japan for customization and will soon be entering service with the Tokyo Metropolitan Police.

"We are delighted that Mitsui Bussan Aerospace has signed a contract today for 12 more AW139 helicopters, which makes it one of our largest distributors for the aircraft so far," AgustaWestland CEO Giuseppe Orsi said

The Mitsui Bussan contract increased firm orders for the AW139 to nearly 170, which AgustaWestland said made it the best selling medium twin today. By early this year, it said, nearly 30 aircraft had been delivered to customers in Europe, North America, Africa, Asia and the Middle East.

AgustaWestland also signed a distribution agreement with Sloane Helicopters Ltd to provide AgustaWestland helicopters to the United Kingdom and Irish civil helicopter market. The four-year agreement entails the acquisition of a minimum of 44 helicopters and will allow Sloane to market and sell the entire AgustaWestland civil market product line. The overall market value of the agreement is about 200 million Euro.

At Heli-Expo, AgustaWestland took delivery of the third of 20 AW139s. Delivery of Seacor's 20 AW139s commenced last year. The aircraft has already entered service with Era operating in the Gulf of Mexico.

The offshore and passenger transport market represents the largest market sector for the AW139 to date, with several major operators having placed orders including CHC, Luftransport and Chevron Texaco. In offshore configuration the aircraft can be configured with 12 or 15 passenger seats in the cabin.

Eurocopter Pushes Quiet Initiatives

Eurocopter claimed it is at the forefront of reducing noise emission of helicopters, asserting that its entire new generation of helicopters--the EC120, EC130, EC135, EC145, EC155, as well their heaviest complement, the EC225, have noise levels well below ICAO limits. The EC120, EC130 and EC135 even comply with the most restrictive levels in the world, the Grand Canyon National Park Standard, it said, offering the following update.

"Rather than remaining an abstract calculation with technical values, the progress made in this area is very perceivable to the public. A new-generation Eurocopter helicopter flying over at 1,000 ft altitude has a perceivable noise of 68 dB. Compared to regular road traffic, a car will be perceived at 72 dB and a motorcycle at 73 dB. In real life conditions, you will not hear a Eurocopter helicopter coming.

"This is the result of continuous research into `quiet technologies', to which a large portion of R&D resources is devoted. Not stopping there, Eurocopter is working on further improvements.

"Since the 1970s, the company has invested in consistently improving its unrivalled Fenestron shrouded tail-rotor technology, the latest generation of which is used for the EC120, EC130, EC135 and EC155. Compared to the original Fenestron first featured on the Gazelle, a noise reduction of more than 5 dB on average has been achieved, equalling about 30 percent with regard to acoustic power perceivable.

"Quiet main rotors are another focal point of Eurocopter's R&D efforts. The company develops blades featuring evolutionary airfoils and reduced chord, with parabolic or tapered blade tips and evolutionary twist.

"Presently, research is done on the next generation of rotor blades with a view to lowering the noise at high speed and descent. The main rotor's adaptable rotation rating is also targeted at reducing noise while, at the same time, guaranteeing safety and maintaining high operational performance. In cooperation with engine manufacturers, Eurocopter is developing silent air intakes.

"Noise abatement cannot only be achieved by new technologies developed by manufacturers. Every operator can `fly neighborly' by respecting recommended flight procedures. Eurocopter will include such recommendations on noise abatement in its flight manuals for its entire new-generation product line, allowing operators to significantly reduce the acoustic impact on the environment. The company cooperates with operators, citizens' associations and authorities elaborating helicopter accessibility to urban areas.

"One major program in this area is called `Friendcopter,' a large-scale European project, in which Eurocopter, AgustaWestland, European universities and research centres cooperate. Its aims are to propose a common European methodology for the minimalisation of neighbourhood annoyance; to elaborate low-noise procedures for modern helicopters; and to elaborate a noise-footprint calculation tool. As the "Friendcopter" programme progresses, a flight-test campaign is projected with three different helicopter types: the EC130, the EC135 and the A109.

"In the next phase of the program, Eurocopter plans to become a recognised actor in the noise abatement field thanks to the results of `Friendcopter' and to become a partner in the definition of new operational procedures together with the FAA and ICAO.

In cooperation with US manufacturers, Eurocopter also participates in the HAI's `Fly Neighborly Workshop,' as well as in Assn. of Aeronautical Manufacturers meetings involved in the land-use planning programme.

"Noise abatement is a decisive factor in maintaining and increasing helicopter operations. Fully aware of that, and in close cooperation with its customers, Eurocopter will continue its efforts in this area to improve neighbourhood acceptance for helicopters.

Bell UAVs: Good Year, Bad Crash

Bell Helicopter reported major advances in unmanned aircraft systems in 2005 aimed at establishing it as a leader in this emerging market. (Unfortunately, they were followed by the crash in April of Bell's only Eagle Eye tiltrotor UAS, which obviously sets back flight testing.)

"2005 was a banner year for Bell Helicopter's vertical-lift Unmanned Aircraft Systems programmes," said Bob Ellithorpe, executive director of Bell's Unmanned Aircraft Systems. "We opened our UAS Flight Test Center in West Texas, we celebrated the FAA experimental flight test certification of our TR918 Eagle Eye, and we watched as the TR918 Eagle Eye lifted off the ground for the very first time.

"In the next five to ten years, there is going to be a tremendous surge in the demand for unmanned aircraft system technology," said Jon Rudy, director of Unmanned Programs Business Development.

"We are staying on the leading edge of this market by talking to customers now, both military and commercial, as well as international customers, to determine their future needs. Our mission is to be the premier provider of vertical-lift unmanned aircraft systems."

Unmanned technology has applications in many markets, including law enforcement, search and rescue, reconnaissance and surveillance, logistics, and coastal and border patrol, to name just a few.

"Bell is in a unique position to meet the emerging unmanned-system needs of customers because of the depth and breadth of our existing portfolio of vertical-lift and tilt-rotor aircraft," Rudy explained.

At Bell's XWorx facility in Arlington, Texas, engineers are studying all the different ways unmanned technology could be applied to vertical-lift and tilt-rotor platforms.

Eurocopter Showcases Everest "Mystery Chopper"

Eurocopter displayed its record-breaking AS350 B3, which on Feb. 14 was validated by the F�d�ration A�ronautique Internationale as having the high-altitude world record. The record was achieved May 14 and 15, 2005, with two landings and take-offs on top of Mount Everest at 29,035 ft.

Piloted by Eurocopter Experimental Test Pilot Didier Delsalle, the two flights included peak-over landings on the mountain's peak both exceeding 2 min., as stipulated by the FAI regulations.

"Achieved with a serial helicopter, this absolute world record once more contributes to underline the qualities of the AS350 B3 Ecureuil/AStar as a multi-role, reliable, fast, and rugged workhorse," Eurocopter said. "The most powerful variant of the successful AS350 Ecureuil/AStar series, the B3 is equipped with advanced systems such as dual channel FADEC, Vehicle and Engine Monitoring Display and integrated GPS.

A total of 435 AS350 B3s are presently in operational service around the world, mainly performing missions requiring high performance, including "hot and high" missions and sling work (sling capacity of the B3 is 1,400 kg). It is powered by a Turbomeca Arriel 2B engine developing 847 shp."

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