Monthly Archives: October 2016

Safety wings as strong as a Bull

As safety organisations like HeliOffshore push for safety initiatives to tackle helicopter accidents, the Flying Bulls helicopter aerobatic team boasts ten years without any incidents. Despite the extreme manoeuvres to which they push the rotorcraft.

As well as fixed-wing aircraft, the Flying Bulls fleet consists of a Bell 47, AS350 B3+, Bristol Sycamore, EC135, AH-1F Cobra, and the BO105 S. The platform utilised for stunts is the BO105 C which can undertake the same manoeuvres as a fixed-wing stunt aircraft.

The light twin-engine helicopter can reach maximum speeds of 270km/h and its maximum take-off weight is 2,400kg – no mean feat when flying upside down. It has dual hydraulics and a dual electrical supply.


Two BO105 Cs are operated by the Flying Bulls. They were built 42 years ago and remain the only licensed aerobatic helicopters in the world.

‘We have been performing heliaerobatics since 2006 – more than ten years now – and let me point out that we have had no flight accidents or flight incidents,’ Rainer Wilke, a BO105 C pilot, explained to delegates at Helitech International 2016.

Wilke explained that under German registration flight requirements for the stunt displays are very strict.

The Flying Bulls team has a maintenance manual which lists all the parts that need to be replaced due to the nature of the flights undertaken by the BO105.

Furthermore, there are 36 parts which do not need to replaced, ‘but disposed of completely,’ according to Wilke. The team also has an electronic flight hour and maintenance programme that looks at data from every flight.

The logged data shows the pilot records of some special parts – identifying how much time remains before replacement or maintenance is required.

Pilots also have access to manuals that outline which manoeuvres can and cannot be attempted.

In 2010, the Flying Bulls flew 356 minutes of aerobatic flying and this year 340 minutes of flying have taken place so far.

One of the many factors that has helped the safety record is experience. If a new pilot is to join the team they must have several thousand flight hours under their belt, and in the first instance they will learn to fly the aerobatic displays in a fixed-wing aircraft from the fleet.


Intensive training to one side, there is also the matter of meticulously planning each flight, Wilke said that the team utilises reference lines on the ground; pilots cover these on foot before they get inside the rotorcraft.

Through practice and planning, the pilot can understand the landscape and environment and observe safety margins in the vicinity i.e. spectators.

Mitigation of risk is done through the consideration of weight. The smallest spaces on the aircraft are vacuumed to avoid any presence of FOD.

Special attention is also paid to the engine manufacturer’s guide to ensure oil supply at any given altitude, and further consideration centres on the rotor system and fuselage.

Flying in the sky with no wings and an ox-like rotor system, the BO105 C Bull can demonstrate strength in safety for the entire rotorcraft community.


All images via The Flying Bulls

The inner workings of a submarine

There is a school of thought that says that, when it comes to the maritime realm, everything that is not a submarine is simply a target waiting to be sunk.

Now it’s obviously not as simple as all that and this writer would never pin his colours to the mast in such a decisive action. Although, come to think of it, he does and he just did.

But these things are pretty difficult as a jobbing hack to board or embark on at the best of times so when the chance came to join a group of fellow scribblers to see the innermost workings of a real one, it wasn’t hard to drop the laptop, ignore the emails and pretend to be an ancient submariner for a day.

The venue was to be Toulon, where the Marine Nationale’s Améthyste is currently undergoing a life-extension programme. These boats weigh in at around 2500t, give or take a little depending on whether submerged or on the surface, and are the smallest nuclear attack submarines in the world.

Like all military and defence industry sites, security was tight, even more so given nuclear signs dotted around the area. One picture was permitted, so one picture was all we took.


The Améthyste had more scaffolding over her than a Chiswick terrace

Roughly one million man hours will go into the overhaul with maintenance crew working in shifts for 24 hours a day, five days a week. This will be the last of the major overhaul the boat will undergo, before decommissioning in 2027.

Four ‘soft’ patches are built into the submarines hull in order to allow easier access through hull and into the interior. Given how tight it is down the conning tower and tiny corridors leading from for’ard, past the nuclear reactor housing and the steam generation plant ending at the propeller shafts, this simple bit of engineering goes a long way in making a complex scenario less difficult than it already is.

Quill managed to grab some comments from the head of the team working on the submarine, who we will call Thiebault, saying of his charge that despite its age, it was a ‘really impressive design’.

‘Major overhauls are performed roughly around every 11 years. We remove all the equipment, which is then sent away for testing, check the hull and refuel the reactor,’ he said, wearing the boiler suit and easy manner of a seasoned naval maintainer.

‘Our job is to design and maintain but also respond to the needs of our international clients. [DCNS] is paid on the basis of submarine availability, it is not so easy to improve [given the age of the vessel and standards reached already] but we will try and succeed.’

The maintenance programme is awarded by the French government to DCNS in a five-year set contracts which in theory is examined each time the awarding process comes around. However given the amount of planning that goes into organising such a routine for a fleet of submarines, it would be difficult not to award repeat or rolling deals given the risks of loss of capability.

Naval officials during a pre-tour briefing spoke highly of the maintenance programme, saying that they maintain 3.6 boats at sea from the six strong fleet, better than the UK’s Royal Navy although some concession in mission duration was given.

‘We cannot deploy for eight months [like the UK] but we produce more time of availability,’ said one officer. ‘Other European SSK [conventionally-powered] operators are finding it difficult, struggling to put submarines to sea.’

The Améthyste is of course one of the Rubis class of SSKs operating with the Marine Nationale and these ageing vessels are due to be replaced by the Barracuda boats from 2018. The new boats, roughly twice the weight and significantly larger and more capable, will run the same maintenance schedule as their predecessors.

This system roughly means a complex overhaul lasting 16-18 months every ten years while between such programmes routine maintenance is conducted after every four month deployment, lasting for around five weeks.

Simulating success and journalistic failure

Near the site too was the simulation training centre where all the French submariners are put through their paces. So were the hacks who, in teams of four or five, were put through their paces in the navigation and control centre.


A still image taken straight from the minds eye of this writer during simulated navigation trials

One group performed particularly well, managing to send the simulated boat diving to crush depth, the lights turning red and klaxons blaring as our damage control team reacted to the situation as a toddler does to a keyboard – all smashing buttons and smiling faces. Our claim to have turned it around with an emergency main ballast blow was met with short shrift by the stony faced instructor.

For the amateurs it’s a bit of fun but professionals rightly take it deadly serious. The failure rate for recruits when on their designated programme is around 10-15% officials revealed, although some of those are moved into other roles onboard and continue training.

The facility is constantly being upgraded with a variety of new simulators and ready rooms being added. This is required because according to one industrial official, ‘it is difficult to test floods and fires [on a submarine] in the real world’.

Three simulators perform diving safety and platform management, two focus on tactical combat simulations and a further two being dedicated to the nuclear plant. The intention is to procure additional 3D simulators to assist in recruit training.

Dread noughts and crosses

While we are on the subject of submarines, the UK recently decided that the planned Successor SSBNs will likely be nom-de-guerred as the Dreadnought class, with the first boat due to take up that name.


A small image of an absolutely massive submarine

Now we all like a good Dreadnought. Indeed the name is one of the most famous in the Royal Navy after the vessel that made one class of warship obsolete upon entering service in 1906 and introducing an entirely new one. The name has been part of English/British naval lore for either 370 or 470 years, depending on how you classify these things.

However ship names run in cycles and given the immense number of vessels the service used to have, compared to today, there probably should have been a bit more time between the last Dreadnought (and first UK SSN) leaving service in 1980 and the (in more ways than one) successor. What’s wrong with calling them B boats, with names like Birkenhead, Blackburn and Blencathra?

Worth a shot.

Dear Poland – you’ve changed

Okay Poland, now you’re just being silly. I understand you’ve fallen out with Airbus Helicopters, I really do – but your actions since reneging on your deal to purchase those brand-new Caracals are starting to look a little erratic.

I know things got a little heated when you cancelled the $3.5 billion deal to buy 50 H225Ms after a year of complex negotiations, an agreement which would have given Poland the capacity to produce aircraft of its own for the export market.

But that’s no reason to post mean comments online about why the break-up was not your fault and was completely down to the action of your former partner. Telling the world that “they did not meet the criteria of economic interest” was not very classy and should have been left as a private matter.

As for your deputy defence minister’s claim that Paris’ reaction to the slight could be explained by the fact that Poland taught the French how to use forks ‘a couple of centuries ago’, that’s really raking through old coals.

In fact, we had to turn to the AFP to learn that this may have been a reference to France’s King Henry III, who had previously been elected king of Poland and introduced the fork to France in the 16th Century.

This was also picked up by social media, so you should reflect on that fact that when you’ve become a meme, you’ve definitely lost the moral high ground.

And any break-up is hard but did you have to rush so quickly into the arms of another?

What you loved about the Caracal was its ability to cover a range of missions, with all the benefits of commonality that brings.

But according to your recent public statements, you now plan to not only reopen the competition but also buy Black Hawks for your special forces, purchase additional helicopters from PZL Świdnik, and in the middle of all this develop your own indigenous helicopter design.

What next – the creation of Poland’s first Death Star? Oh wait, someone has already beaten me to it…


Concrete chopper commute

Whether you are filming a music video, a VIP travelling from A to B or a pilot navigating the skyline for an emergency medical mission, helipads are fast becoming part of the fabric of the urban landscape.

They are proving to be popular additions on top of skyscrapers in the concrete jungles of the Middle East and Asian countries, the result of a building boom in both commercial and residential structures.

In South America, the city of São Paulo, Brazil, has one of the largest fleets of helicopters within a city. Not surprisingly, the country has the most heliports in the region with around 13 [at last count by the CIA’s world fact book 2013].


In consideration of this chopper movement in the São Paulo skies, UberCopter is looking to capitalise on these flying machines within the city, by using them as a mode of transportation across the South American metropolis.

Uber is famed for its app-related taxi services – although the price for a sky ride might not be as competitive as four wheels. A ride from the city centre to the airport, for example, would nevertheless prove popular to avoid the congested city streets below.

According to research by the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat, 114 buildings over 200m have helipads, across 13 countries worldwide.

Furthermore, the study also indicated that 43 global cities have 200m-plus buildings with helipads: Seoul in South Korea currently has 12, closely followed by Busan and Los Angeles with ten each.

The Himalaya Mountains can lay claim to having the highest helipad in the world at 6,400m above sea level.

However, with regards to cities the highest helipad on top of a building was completed in 2010 on the 438m-tall Guangzhou International Finance Center in China.



The CIA’s world fact book stated that around the world there are over 6,500 heliports. Their increasing presence across the skyline could mean that whirlybird rides in the centre of town could become part of our daily commute in the not so distant future.

The Philippine pivot


Much was made of President Barack Obama’s pivot to the Asia-Pacific region. Now another pivot is under way. Only trouble is that it seems to be unhinged and nobody really knows which way it is going to go.

The pivot all centres on newly elected President Rodrigo Duterte.

This week he headed off to Beijing to meet with Chinese leaders from 18-21 October. Of course, China will be on its most flattering and smoothest behaviour.

9n5a3360Ironically, this is a sharp contrast to China’s acerbic remarks against the Philippines when the court of public opinion – and the Permanent Court of Arbitration – stood against it over the South China Sea row. How the pendulum has swung.

At the moment the Philippine president seems quite enamoured with the Chinese and what they can do for his country. Could Duterte, the one who promised he would ride a jet ski out to Chinese-occupied Scarborough Shoal to plant a Philippine flag, meekly roll over in front of Beijing?

It is clear that Duterte does not like the US. He has already accused the CIA of plotting to assassinate him. He has already told American military advisors (the Joint Special Operations Task Force – Philippines) to get out of Mindanao. He announced that the recent PHIBLEX exercise between the US Marine Corps and Philippine military would be the last ever under his leadership.

9n5a3372Indeed, this author was present at both the ADAS 2016 defence show last month and PHIBLEX earlier this month (from which the associated photos come). There was palpable tension and uncertainty among diplomats and senior military officials on both sides. The US does not know which way Duterte is going to swing next, so it is striving hard to avoid any provocation.

Duterte’s senior officials are often left scrambling to explain that Duterte did not really mean what he said, or that he was misinformed by advisors. He has even advocated buying Chinese weapons, something odd considering the two countries’ recent history.

His contention that bilateral exercises with the US only benefit the latter are clearly erroneous. The Philippine military is underfunded and strained by two concurrent insurgencies as well as an external territorial threat from China. The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) learns far more from exercises like PHIBLEX and Balikatan than the US does. The two countries conduct 28 training activities together annually.

Duterte has also foolishly belittled the efforts of the US military in assisting the Philippines after natural disasters strike.

9n5a3540Will the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) be abrogated? Or the Mutual Defense Treaty dating back to 1951? Duterte said he would not, but he is often guilty of backtracking so one can never be sure. He is particularly angry at the US, the United Nations and anyone else who dares to question his policy of extrajudicial killings of drug dealers.

Duterte, a socialist, has to tread warily. If he concedes too much ground to the communists, whom the AFP has been fighting for decades, or caves in to China, the military will be unhappy. The Philippines has a history of military coups, and Duterte will not want to provoke another one. For this reason he has to placate the military to some degree, whether it be with new equipment or some other way.

img_4390Yet Duterte is enjoying immense popularity ratings in the polls. He garnered just 37.6% of votes in the presidential election, but a September poll revealed a 76% approval rating. His anti-crime campaign has already seen more than 3,000 so-called criminals killed. Finally the country has a strong leader who will fight crime and corruption and not let it be downtrodden by the major powers.

Could Duterte then be a genius? Is he playing off the US and China to get the best from both worlds? Possibly… but it seems unlikely. He has already shown a propensity to flip-flop and to contradict himself within brief periods of time.

Which direction will the Philippine pivot go? We watch with bated breath as this bull enters the China shop in Beijing…


Feeling Heli Good

This week’s Helitech International 2016 was demonstrative of a narrative change from the anticipated doom and gloom of the oil and gas crisis to the reality of a wide range of deals across the helicopter supply chain.

The positive outlook felt across the show’s floor is not seismic at this stage, but it felt like the ripple of confidence was the start of a very different tone for the industry, with an emphasis on positivity going forward for the next 12 months.

The dialogue that appears to have started in Amsterdam was a sobering tone of realisation: yes, oil and gas has impacted the market, but let us dictate the next cycle rather than be dictated to by the downturn.

As I write the price of oil is around $50 a barrel; in recent weeks the price has risen to $52 with lows of $48. Green shoots of stabilisation seem to be happening.

Leonardo Helicopters, who were one of the most dominant presences at the show [displaying its AW169 in an EMS configuration], had numerous contract signings, as well as a framework agreement with Specialist Aviation Services for the provision of six AW169s.


Leonardo Helicopters’ AW169 in HEMs configuration arrives at the RAI, Amsterdam

Another key point of optimism was the 35 new exhibitors that had a presence at the show. One of these was Kaman. The company returned to the show after over ten years absence, because deals in Europe over the next 12 months are seriously desired. With their K-Max production line now re-opened, orders will be required..

Lessors conveyed their market strength as well, LCI agreed a contract for three AW169s with Leonardo, and orders for AW139s were disclosed by Waypoint Leasing to two companies respectively.

Suppliers, smaller manufacturers and companies felt the buzz of positivity as deals were signed or intentions were made for 2017 with new products being launched at the show such as Trakka Systems’ TLX.


JSSI signed an agreement with HeliAir Sweden for five helicopters to join its engine programme.

Now these good vibes need to continue not only on the show floor but consistently throughout the industry and in the remaining months of this year – not just at shows.

The real mark of success for Helitech International will be demonstrated at Heli-Expo 2017 in Dallas, US with the anticipation of more deals, more orders and an overtly confident outlook for the forthcoming years.


All the hits from AUSA 2016

Against a political backdrop that few could have foreseen the Shephard News team embarked on their transatlantic flights and headed across the pond to the capitol of the greatest democracy on earth.

The annual event that is AUSA, held in Washington DC, brought together US Army top-dogs as well as the usual flock of defence journalists all hunting down the juiciest news.

Let us begin with some of what Shephard unearthed at the event.

No one could miss the General Dynamics Land Systems new tank technology demonstrator, a mash-up between the Abrams tank and Ajax armoured reconnaissance vehicles, was set to show the US Army what could be achieved in a light tank. At just 27t the new Griffin is a baby compared to a 70t+ MBT.


Considering its a light tank it is still quite a beast.

On the gun side Orbital ATK had a model of its XM813 30mm gun which is going to be added to the Stryker vehicle as part of the US Army’s lethality programme.

The XM813 with a cameo appearance from one of our favourite PR people

The XM813 with a cameo appearance from one of our favourite PR people

And we could not miss out the fact we spoke the US Army programme managers for unmanned vehicles and future vertical lift. To say our rotary editor was pleased with the interview would be an understatement.

To see what we chatted about you’ll have to check out the videos.

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Outside of the big showstoppers AUSA also supplied us with the usual night vision goggles and black boxes to satisfy our inner nerd.


PacStar was selected to provide ruggedised routers to the US Army.


Harris launched new lightweight night vision binoculars.

Whoever ends up in the White house this time next year we will be making the annual pilgrimage over to Washington for AUSA so if we didn’t see you this time we will see you in 2017.

(Images courtesy of Land Warfare Editor extraordinaire Mr Tim Fish.)

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