Still a Squirrel?
Guest blogger, Jim Winchester, reflects on the aircraft naming convention history of Airbus Helicopters, formerly Eurocopter (and formerly a number of other different companies…), and the impact the ‘H’ designation will have on the brand.
Although this change doesn’t officially take place until the beginning of 2016, some of us journalists were only just getting used to Eurocopter (Est 1992) and can remember MBB and Aérospatiale, if not Messerschmitt, Bölkow, Sud-Est and Sud-Ouest or any of the other companies today’s European rotorcraft giant can trace its lineage back to.
The alpha-numerical system, or systems, in use until now were inherited from Airbus Helicopters’ predecessor companies. Broadly speaking, AS prefixes were used for products of pre-Eurocopter French origin, and EC for German ones and those developed since the merger.
The new system eliminates questionable dots or dashes, confusing typographical spaces (or the lack of them) and applies to all current models, except where it doesn’t.
EXCEPTIONS TO THE RULE
There are a number of exceptions testing the rule.
The new convention sees the disappearance of the EC designator that came in circa 1993 with the EC120, again, except where it doesn’t.
At the press conference unveiling the new structure, Airbus Helicopters CEO Guillaume Faury explained the rationale: ‘It’s extremely simple – in Airbus the A is for airliners and H is for helicopters.’ So that’s that cleared up, then.
As the first new machine to receive the new brand, the experimental X4 will enter production as the H160. Those with a grasp of how it used to be done might have expected it to be the H165 – 1 indicating civilian; 6, a 6t class machine and 5, twin engines.
However, the H125 (formerly the AS350 B3e, but only that version) holds true to Aérospatiale’s old naming tradition.
Airbus Helicopters’ nomenclature has become bit like the Pentagon’s system, which held together relatively well until new types became few and far between, the old hands who understood the system retired and the sequence collapsed, leading to the F-35 fighter being next to appear after the YF-23 and such oddities as the AL-1 laser-firing 747, which fell out of the designation system altogether, before being cancelled.
PARAGON OF CLARITY
In contrast, Airbus’s airliner range is a paragon of clarity, although the diverse military aircraft portfolio from A400M to PZL-130 Orlik will probably continue to defy easy rationalisation, to the annoyance perhaps only of the marketing department.
Airbus assures us that existing popular names like Super Puma (which will be either the H225, the AS332 C1e or AS332 L1e depending on variant) and Colibri (was the EC120, now the H120) will still be used, although I’m not sure the latter ever really caught on in the popular imagination.
It has to be admitted the product line-up had become a bit confusing. At the Paris Air Show a few years back when discussing light utility helicopters with (then) Eurocopter’s marketing chief, we agreed to use ‘Squirrel’ when talking about the AS350/550 and variants, as the existing designations were just clouding matters.
That and I can’t pronounce Ecureuil.
In future, it will presumably make identifying company products at Le Bourget simpler, as long as the H130 et al get to wear the appropriate show numbers, but I am beginning to wonder if the thinking at Marignane and Donauwörth is that joined-up.
On one hand, I can’t help feeling some nostalgia for the old designations, which contained some vestiges of the company’s origins and product development history and even a clue to the number and type of engines.
On the other hand, I can’t see why the new regime hasn’t been applied consistently across the whole product line. Eurocopter never managed to quite unify the system it inherited and Airbus seems to have missed the boat once more. Let’s hope they give us time to get used to these before changing them again.
In practical terms, however, all this tinkering with names and numbers means fairly little to the owners and operators who put their helicopters to work every day.
All of this matters mainly to those who like to bring order from chaos, who write about aerospace and compile directories, who keep logs and maintain databases.
An H125 is still a Squirrel at heart, and until data plates and manuals change, the main effect many RotorHub readers may notice in the near future is a shuffling around of the entries in the next issue of Shephard’s Civil and Parapublic Helicopter Handbook.
But don’t forget that somewhere inside every Airbus Helicopters H145 is an MBB/Kawasaki BK 117 trying to get out.
Jim Winchester is a freelance aerospace journalist based in the UK.