helicopters blog

Tuesday, October 22, 2013 - 13:40

Like many, I couldn't see the point of re-branding Eurocopter products as 'Airbus' models. Helicopters are not mass transport tools and an 'Airbus A120', say, hardly looks the part of an airliner. But now I understand that's exactly what the European giant has in mind.

While the concept of the helicopter as a utility vehicle (air ambulance, SAR etc.) is now firmly established in the public consciousness, the idea of it as an onshore public transport tool has never really taken hold. There are still precious few scheduled passenger services in the world and you could never describe these as symptomatic of a growing trend.

If the rotorcraft - and particularly future rotorcraft such as the tilt-rotor and X3 - is to reverse this trend, then it has to become more acceptable to the general public. As well as developing quieter engines and rotor blades, more capable avionics and less intrusive procedures, it must position itself in the marketplace as less of a flying limo and more of a, well, bus. An airbus.

It won't be as simple as that of course, the rebranding has to be part of a much wider marketing strategy. But it's a start, and it will give AgustaWestland pause for thought. How the Hermes designed Airbus 135 will do though, remains to be seen.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013 - 10:28

EBACE happens next week and last week saw a new helicopter event staged in the Czech Republic. Paris looms over the horizon and later in the summer comes DSEi and, within days and at the same venue, the New Improved Helitech. Eventually, Heli-Expo will roll round again.

"Too many shows" is a familiar bleat by journalists that gets you nowt (as Mum used to say). But as a sales-focused community, shouldn't airframe OEMs and trade associations be looking outside this familiar world, where everyone speaks the same language and we network with the same people? Is attending all these aviation events the limit of our marketing creativity?

Because marketing is not just less-aggressive sales. Marketing is the process of preparing the ground for sales. And that extends beyond the commissioning of new exhibition booths every year. It includes communicating not just what's available to buy now, or next year or even the year after, but what we as an industry plan for the future.

For example, here in the UK, London airport capacity is a hot topic. What should we do to maintain (recover?) our status as a Top Trading Country? A fourth runway at LHR? A second one at LGW? A huge new hub in the Thames Estuary? Or connect up the half dozen or so long runways that already exist around the LHR CTZ, both with each other and with the City?

Ooh, hang on, that last one you mentioned? We could do that. So why aren't we getting our hands dirty by entering the argument? Why aren't we lobbying governments about the exciting new rotorcraft designs that will be on the market 25 years from now? Why aren't we ensuring our voice is heard at airport/ATC infrastructure conferences, reminding them about offsest and non-conflicting approaches to an automatic hover?

As well as telling people that we're really trying to reduce accidents, why aren't we also reminding them that the vast majority of these events are due as much to the challenging environments in which the crews found themselves, as to any inherent lack of robustness. Put a rotorcraft into a little airway and it will fly happily for years.

Is our reticence, as I believe, due to the lingering public perception that the rotorcraft may be OK for risky environments such as SAR, EMS and pipeline patrol; but unless you're wearing a bright orange rubber suit it's not suitable for public transport? And most importantly, is it due to our fear of getting burned if we argue that, on the contrary, it certainly is?

Colleagues, it's time to stop believing the hype. It's time to throw off this particular shackle and dive into the fray. It's time to divert some of the huge sums we pay into exhibitions and conventions, and put it into areas not where we already are, but where we want to be.

The solution to London's airport dilemma may be years away. But I'll wager the alternatives are being thought through right now.




Tuesday, May 7, 2013 - 15:09

Sikorsky bullish on S92 for Presidential VXX programSo the US Navy has once more sent out an RFP to upgrade the ageing S61s of the Presidential fleet. Sikorsky has already staked its claim with the S-92 and, presumably, AgustaWestland will swiftly do the same with its AW101.

Or will it? The OEM spent millions on the last competition and, it may ask, what has changed since that all fell to bits. Certainly the economy is in far worse state than it was (Bell laid off 140 people last week). If the White House can justify the acquisition, it will be under even greater pressure to buy American (the 101 isn't, and never will be).

And finally, however far removed the Indian scandal may appear, it involves the exact same helicopter and its manufacturer's most recent CEO has just been released from jail.

Would you put money on it even entering the fray?

Thursday, April 25, 2013 - 17:46

We knew a helicopter could be flown without a pilot, but here's the proof. Taken (presumably remotely) from an EC145 testbed at Istres by Jerome Deulin.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013 - 11:43

The privatisation of our helicopter SAR service will offer stable jobs for ex-military air and ground crew, but what about positions for the dwindling number of their serving contemporaries? The loss to the services of both specialist skills and the PR factor have been well documented but the elimination of stable second-line jobs provided, up to now, by billets with 771NAS or 22Sqn RAF will surely have an effect.

Front-line outfits fly operations to a far greater extent than did I or my comrades. But we all put the sea-time in and the opportunites for jobs with 771 or 819 were coveted, especially by the "marrieds". Surely, with current crews experiencing levels of stress that would be completely foreign to me, there must be somewhere they can go for something approaching a 9-5 existence.

They can't all be beefers or appointers. Please tell me someone at MoD has thought about this.

Saturday, March 30, 2013 - 13:10

Today's (London) Times carries a story on trials of small battery-powered UAS being used to ferry medicine, vaccinations and blood samples to inaccessible regions. They might have been hit by disaster after they have been hit by disaster. According to US start-up Matternet, "one billion people are cut off from roads for most or part of the time." Trials have been taking place in Haiti, where much of their transport infrastructure remains unusable after the 2010 earthquake.

The mini-rotorcraft are currently restricted to carrying 2kg loads over 10km ranges. But "over time" the company could expand to delivering larger packages. Sounds to me that Kaman should be banging on the door of the UN, telling them that -- for more than a year now -- the unmaned K-MAX has been delivering hundreds of tonnes of food and supplies to US Marines at remote Afghan patrol bases.

With all this experience it wouldn't take long for someone to set up an operation and, almost by definition, remote areas would be less constrained by airspace restrictions on UAV. The CEO of Matternet says, "it costs $1m to build a 2km one-lane road and, with this (money) we could set up and operate a small network (of aircraft and battery-charging stations)." How many miles of road equates to the range/payload v operating costs calculation of a K-MAX?

Ship one over in an Antonov, get some guys and a controller up-country in a Land Rover, and Bob's your uncle. Well, probably not; but what a great idea? My usual fee applies, Kaman.

Friday, March 22, 2013 - 11:28

http://theaviationist.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/AW1038-Project-Zero_3.jpgProject Zero from Agusta Westland is jaw-droppingly futuristic. This unmanned, all-electric tilt-rotor technology demonstrator, apparently designed and built -- and flown! -- in twelve months, is powered by batteries and dispenses completely with hydraulics.


The fuselage is a blended lifting body. Steering is achieved via elevons for pitch and roll, with longitudinal stability provided by a V-tail.




Monday, March 4, 2013 - 16:14

Drone with military shipTern (Tactically Exploited Reconnaissance Node) -- a drone operating from a US Navy ship. From BBC News


Monday, February 18, 2013 - 15:38

#Eurocopter has sold seven EC135s to Indian operator Aviators. They will be deployed on emergency medical services missions (HEMS) after entering service later this year.

The OEM says that a second order for the light twin is expected to follow in the coming months, to satisfy a growing demand for HEMS services throughout the country.

It appears to be the Bangalore-based bizjet operator's first foray into EMS, indeed into helicopters of any sort.

With the #AgustaWestland AW101 scandal rumbling on over its shoulder, I trust the paper trail leading to the signing of this contract will be closely scrutinised. Given the country's reputation for corruption being endemic at all levels of business, it is vital to the industry's image that it is given a clean bill of health.

Monday, February 4, 2013 - 11:39

The BBC reports on a new helicopter air ambulance charity, set up to provide inter-hospital transfers for sick children. It's not an entirely positive piece as (it says) local AA charities fear that the new boys, branded as The Children's Air Ambulance, will be taking the food from their own mouths.

Twenty years ago, my friend Ian Evans set up Careflight to do pretty much the same thing. His service still operates (although he has passed the reins on to others), but it hardly ever uses a helicopter because it is are just too expensive. Ian told me, "you have to ask, is a helicopter the most cost-effective use of available (NHS) funding". All too often, it ain't. Whenever an air ambulance becomes the best option, Careflight will charter a fixed-wing. That may be restricted to airfields, entailing a road connection at each end, but flying door-to-door is not always an option for helos either.

According to the BBC, the new service plans to cover the whole of England from Coventry so, beyond the Midlands, the transit costs will be horrendous.

Another factor to be considered concerns the much-reduced bulk and weight of specialist neo-nate care equipment: a heart-lung monitor, once the size of a suitcase, is now that of a chocolate box. So it can be carried routinely in a regular EMS helo and becomes another option for the hospital. And a local service is much more likely the first port of call.

I bow to no one in my enthusiasm for helos as the answer to many of our transport needs. But not this one, sorry. Support Your Local Air Ambulance!