Author Archives: helenhaxell

Back to business

If last year was the ‘annus horribilis’ for the civil helicopter sector, that notion has definitely not crept into 2017. Indeed, it has not been an understated or even slow recovery story for the first part of this year with returns to flight, concept aircraft and new platforms dominating the commercial helicopter market.


The big news lies with two platforms that were dogged by crashes. The H225 received a boost recently when the UK’s CAA and the Norwegian aviation authority agreed to lift the no-flying ban on the H225 and AS332 L2 aircraft following the fatal crash in April of last year.

Furthermore, the Bell 525 Relentless has returned to the skies, a year on from the company’s loss of one of its flight test vehicles, which crashed in a fatal accident involving two pilots.

The flight, which took place on 7 July, followed the FAA granting an experimental certificate renewal. Bell is still waiting for the NTSB final report. The company envisions that the aircraft’s type certification will take place at the end of 2018, with deliveries beginning in early 2019.

Experimentation with new technologies has also been part of the tapestry this year for two of the main OEMs. Airbus Helicopters has revealed its high-speed demonstrator, dubbed Racer, as part of the European Clean Sky 2 programme. The company unveiled a model of the concept aircraft, called Racer, in its aerodynamic configuration at Paris Air Show in June.


A wide range of next-generation technologies wereon display at Heli- Expo 2017 in Dallas, in particular Bell Helicopter’s FCX-001.

The investment is focused on supporting technologies and not on a flight test vehicle. If times were as tough as last year, perhaps industry would not have seen the idea come to fruition.


One aircraft set to fly in the near future was also showcased at the IDEF exhibition in May 2017, as Turkish Aerospace Industries unveiled a full-scale mock-up of its T625 helicopter. The 6t platform is the first commercial rotorcraft to be completely developed in-country, a major step forward in the nation’s indigenous aerospace design and manufacturing capability. The company is aiming to conduct the T625’s first flight by next year.

Another home-grown project has been revealed by Russian Helicopters, which is planning for a new single-engine light helicopter. Known as the VRT500, it has a coaxial rotor layout with two three-blade rotors and is tentatively set for completion in late 2019.


In addition, the emergence of Erickson and CHC from bankruptcy has been indicative that the tide of change within the industry is rising towards steady growth. This market positivity has been further helped by companies like Kaman delivering the K-Max again after production of the model stopped for more than a decade.


The next half of the year is looking to be just as buoyant, with promises of orders and LOIs across civil platforms. New models are entering the market in earnest, like the now FAA-certified Bell 505 Jet Ranger X, and the Airbus H160, which is gearing up for its certification next year.

In relation to the civil sector, we are seeing OEMs continually investing in the future, with new technologies and next-generation rotorcraft, and I look forward to shows like Helitech International 2017 in London to see that industry optimism on the show floor.

Good rotary times ahead

We might not have the big helicopter deals of yesteryear but I for one feel positive about the winds of change that are sweeping through the civil and military rotorcraft markets respectively and you should too.

For one, and for fears of sounding like a political spin doctor, things can only get better after the ‘annus horribilis’ of last year and better they have.

As a couple of examples demonstrate within the civil and military market.

In relation to the civil sector, we see OEMs investing in the future with new technologies and next-generation rotorcraft.

Airbus Helicopters has revealed its high-speed demonstrator, dubbed Racer, as part of the European Clean Sky 2 programme. The company unveiled a model of Racer in its aerodynamic configuration at Paris Air Show in June.


Racer, which stands for Rapid and Cost-Effective Rotorcraft, has an average speed in excess of 220kt.

This year has also seen concept become reality when Bell unveiled a new future helicopter concept featuring a range of next-generation technologies at Heli-Expo 2017 in Dallas.

The FCX-001 is a five-bladed new medium twin-sized aircraft, positioned as slightly bigger than the Bell 412 in length and in width.

The project was given a deadline of March 2017 to showcase the concept through a full-scale mock-up, provided by Roush, of an augmented reality experience within the cockpit and a virtual reality experience in the cabin.


The investment is focused on supporting technologies and not on a flight test vehicle. If times were as tough as last year perhaps industry would not have seen the concept born into fruition.

In addition, the emergence of Erickson and CHC from bankruptcy has been indicative that the tide of change within the industry was rising towards steady growth.

This market positivity has been further helped by companies like Kaman delivering the K-Max after the production of the model stopped for more than a decade.

The next half of the year is looking to be just as buoyant with promises of orders and LOIs across civil platforms with new models like the Bell 505 Jet Ranger X, entering the market in earnest now it is FAA certified, and the H160 which is gearing up for its certification next year.

Furthermore, the Airbus Helicopters H225 and Bell Helicopter 525 Relentless, following crashes last year, returning to flight injects confidence into the market that business is starting to return to normal.


(Photo: Gary Sissons) 

While progress has continued across US military helicopter programmes, upgrades and refurbishment of models have been prominent this half of 2017.

The US Army’s programme to upgrade its legacy UH-60L Black Hawks with a new digital cockpit is proceeding at a pace, following the first flight of the prototype model in January.

Some 760 legacy UH-60L Black Hawks will undergo a major cockpit upgrade to UH-60V standard that will allow them to remain on duty alongside UH-60Ms into the 2030s and beyond.

The Pakistan Navy is set to receive seven former UK MoD Sea Kings by the end of this year.

The first set of Boeing AH-6i armed scout helicopters were received by the Saudi Arabian National Guard (SANG) in June. The 12 aircraft were delivered to the first operational brigade.

Notably, in June this year Sikorsky received the go-ahead from the US Army for a five year contract worth $3.8 billion, which included 40 UH-60M Black Hawks to Saudi Arabia.

Black Hawk Landscape

There is scope for another 103 aircraft meaning the contract would rise by a further $1.4 billion. It is anticipated that initial deliveries will take place three months from now and carry on into 2022.

A Sikorsky spokesperson stated that the base contract of 257 aircraft includes 182 UH-60M Black Hawks: 142 for the US Army and 40 for the SANG as well as 75 HH-60M Pave Hawk.

The rotary market at current is demonstrative that there is a strength in the whirlybird and it is soaring into the next half of the year with a solid footing.

For more on the civil and military helicopter markets in review this year, please see

Don’t poke the bear

Following the recent release of Defense News Top 100 list of defence companies, Russian Helicopters is seeing red over its perceived omission.

Igor Korotchenko, director of the Centre for Analysis of World Arms Trade, stated in a release by Rostec: ‘A reasonable question comes up: how could it happen that the Russian Helicopters group which has steadily been on the list of 30 major global defence companies for the previous five years and ranked number 25 in the Top 100 Defense News rating last year suddenly drop out of it?’

Defense News commented on the missing company: ‘Russian Helicopters, another major player, is not included this year, because the company did [not] respond to multiple requests for 2016 defence revenue.’


The list aside it cannot be denied that Russian Helicopters – in the military and civil market – is one of the largest helicopter OEMs in the world, although recently its order book has been dented.

The state-controlled umbrella holding company, Russian Helicopters, which controls Russia’s two design bureaus – Kamov and Mil Moscow Helicopter Plant – in addition to five large manufacturing plants and six MRO facilities, reported delivery of just 189 helicopters compared to 271 in 2014 and 212 in 2015.

The company has been traditionally reliant on large military orders for export customers. Iraq has emerged as one of the most important customer for military models, taking delivery of ten Mi-28Ns and three Mi-35Ms.


Other international operators of Russian Helicopters military offerings include the Peruvian Air Force and the Belarus Ground Force.

Russian Helicopters also has a good foothold in Africa, and the company is delivering the first batch of Ka-52E helicopters to Egypt – the total order is for 46 and will be received over a course of three years.


Algeria has also proven to be a prominent customer too with a large Russian manufactured fleet featuring two Mi-26T2s and six Mi-28NEs.

On the civil side, Kenya earlier this year received the Mi-17V-5 multirole helicopter for the national police’s usage.


Its biggest foreign exporting country is China although this is predominantly related to the civil market.

On 25 July the company signed contracts with Hong Kong-based United Helicopters International Group (UHIG) for the delivery of ten helicopters for operators in China – the deal comprised of five Ansat light helicopters in medevac configuration, three Mi-171 in cargo configuration and two Ка-32А 11ВС.

In February this year, UHIG signed as an official distributor for Russian Helicopters aircraft in China, Malaysia and Australia.


In 2016, China remained the biggest customer for Russian-made civilian helicopter models, with one Mi-26TC, five Ka-32A11BC and two Mi-171E deliveries.

In addition, it is anticipated that by the end of this year, a contract will be finalised by China and Russia on an Advanced Heavy Lifter (AHL) helicopter project.

The AHL (referred to as the AC332 by AVIC) will have a maximum takeoff weight of 38.2t, including a 10t internal payload (loadable through a rear ramp) and a 15t underslung payload.

China’s demand for the AC332 is expected to stretch to 200 units for both military and civil use by 2040. China’s military lacks sufficient heavy-lift assets, so the AHL will be welcomed by the People’s Liberation Army Air Force.

The company claims it will be growing its order book to 500 aircraft this year. It seems the bear has been poked and is more than content to take the honey, as evidenced through its rhetoric to grow its order book in 2017.

All photos via Alex Mladenov and Russian Helicopters

Procurement, production and progress

Heavy lift programmes such as Sikorsky’s CH-53K and Bell-Boeing’s multi-year V-22 project with the US DoD are ticking along, and the companies are optimistic that as progress continues, international interest in the platforms will grow.

As the CH-53K King Stallion enters production, company officials are confident that the USMC Heavy Lift Replacement Program is on track. With initial operating capability scheduled to be achieved by the end of 2019, the aircraft has now exceeded 450 test flight hours.


At the critical design review stage of the programme, the Director, Operational Test and Evaluation FY2016 annual report noted that high temperature issues within the number two engine bay had caused delays. In February, Sikorsky confirmed that measures had been put in place to overcome overheating.

‘[Regarding] the heat on the engine we have already taken two models that have shown that heat dissipating. We’ve got two other designs that are looking at improving it even more,’ Sikorsky’s president Dan Schultz told me, when asked if this issue had any further ramifications for testing points.

The CH-53K King Stallion

‘Right now, we’re back in flight and we are not seeing [the engines] as hot as they were in the beginning. All aircraft that have the third engine have a heat area back there and we’ve been working on that with NAVAIR. So, that is not one of our risk areas.’

Discussions with the German government are currently focused on pricing of a potential order for 41 CH-53K helicopters to replace the incumbent CH-53G variant. Schultz argued that when Germany makes its decision, the company will be ready, with the King Stallion expected to be in full production by that point.

Angel Thunder 2015: German Air Force participates in MASCAL Exercise

One of the key developments of the K-model is the size of the back end of the aircraft, which is 30cm wider than its predecessor, the Super Stallion, at the request of the USMC. ‘When you think of the back end of a 53K, forget about all the best flight avionics or best performance – all those kinds of things – the back end is 12in wider… that’s a big difference to the guys on the ground,’ Shultz said.

Pitching itself further as an international military supplier, Bell Helicopter has highlighted imminent deliveries of its offerings across Asia. The company will see the first V-22 deliveries to Japan in September/October this year, while the AH-1Z Viper will start to be delivered to Pakistan in earnest soon.

Up, Up, and away

Rich Harris, VP of international military sales at Bell, explained to journalists at the Paris Air Show that it was the first FMS of the AH-1 attack helicopter in 20 years. The Pakistan Army will take receipt of the first three aircraft this year. While little timeline detail was provided, Harris did confirm that these were currently being finished on the assembly line in Amarillo, Texas.

Placed in 2015, the order for 12 Vipers will see the remaining nine delivered in 2018. At this stage, while it has not been decided whether delivery will be in batches of three or more, the final units will be received by Pakistan 18 months from now, Harris confirmed at the show in June.

Any Time. Any Place.

The V-22 programme has so far seen 295 of 360 aircraft delivered to the USMC. In total, 347 V-22s have been delivered, including 52 in the USAF CV configuration. The aircraft has surpassed more than 350,000 flight hours.

In a plan announced in mid-2015 the USAF will deploy three CV-22 Ospreys to Japan in the second half of this year, with seven more scheduled to arrive by 2021.

With the company looking to accelerate efforts to promote its military portfolio outside of the US the prospect of a NATO sharing concept could stretch the reach of the OEM’s military aircraft. Harris explained that at this stage Bell is excited about this opportunity with a prospective joint asset such as the V-22.

For more on military helicopter procurement, platform production and progress with current programmes see the July-August edition of DH.

RIAT 2017: Tattoo markings in the sky

This year’s Royal International Air Tattoo (RIAT) at RAF Fairford did not disappoint with its wide range of aircraft on static display and those flying across the skies above.

Among those on flying display was the Airbus A400M transport aircraft. While the aircraft has been blighted by cracks in the propeller gearbox, despite this in March of this year Indonesia confirmed its intent to purchase four A400Ms.

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Another crowd pleaser was the RAF’s Chinook which demonstrated its prowess by wowing the crowds with its balancing act on its rear wheels and then taking off again.

Also present at the show were strategic strike bombers such as the US Air Force’s B-52 Stratofortress and, in a rare appearance, the U-2 ISR aircraft.

The US Air Force aircraft has recently been involved in intelligence gathering operations in Afghanistan and has now been operated by the air force for more than 50 years.

The Royal Australian Air Force’s E-7A Wedgetail was on display with its radar mounted on its fuselage – the aircraft present at the show had recently been conducting ISTAR missions in the Middle East.

Fighter aircraft displaying their wares included the F-15 and the Eurofighter Typhoon while rotorcraft present included the HH-60G Pave Hawk and the AW159 Wildcat amongst many others.

For more news from the show, please visit

Urban taxis: ready for take-off

The future of electric vertical take-off and landing and its role in public transportation is edging ever closer as OEMs and businesses join forces to make this once sci-fi dream a reality.

For a concept to become a product, there has to be demand and affordability – enter Uber, the taxi app company, which is using its meteoric rise in ground transportation to seriously launch sky taxis.

One of the drives behind Uber’s accessibility to urban transportation lies with the rise in traffic, congestion and modern stresses related to city commuting.

Looking at the urban landscape and densely populated cities around the world, 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].

UberCopter is looking to capitalise on the number of helicopters within the city by using them as a mode of transportation across the South American metropolis.

In Silicon Valley, Airbus Group is gearing up for the first prototype flight of its A^3, part of Project Vahana, which is a self-piloted aircraft (Vahana is Sanskrit for ‘that which carries, pulls’).


In addition, the OEM’s CityAirbus project is a piloted multi-propeller aircraft that the company hopes will eventually see the aircraft become fully autonomous once legislation is passed.

Returning to Uber, the company is working in collaboration with rotary OEM Bell Helicopter on an ambitious flying taxi programme which it hopes to see test flights for in 2020.

Three years from now Uber is hopeful that by utilising Bell’s innovation knowledge and expertise it will have a VTOL aircraft to operate as a taxi service.

Bell Helicopter remains tighter lipped about the timelines at this stage. In a non-committal fashion, Scott Drennan, director of engineering innovation at Bell Helicopter, told me more about the deadlines and the project.

‘We are looking carefully at what we can and can’t do. Uber has put out some pretty aggressive timelines. Bell is looking at this from a safety perspective to ensure the aircraft can perform the missions,’ Drennan said.

At this stage, Bell Helicopter’s innovation team, which recently showcased the concept FCX-001, is looking at technologies that will adhere to Uber’s brief for urban transportation.


Primarily, the team’s initial propulsion technology direction is anticipated to be centred around hybrid electric although this could evolve to fully electric.

Cities being looked at for an initial service are Dallas and Dubai. The former is no surprise being the home of Bell Helicopter.

‘We are both open to all urban environments… open to Dallas and Dubai… Dallas is our home turf, we know we have supportive mayors and we know we have lots of aerospace in the area.

‘We have communities that want to be leaders in technology and transportation. So, that’s a great choice for us as well,’ Drennan commented.

With a community that is so open to new aircraft technologies buzzing overhead, this surely provides a blank cheque for the OEM to experiment.

‘Uber is honest about the challenges. We agree with their list – autonomy and air traffic control certification, propulsion – these are all going to be unique challenges that of course Bell loves to face and matches our historical legacy of taking on transformative lift,’ Drennan commented.

He explained that in the development of the aircraft, low emissions are being considered while noise is a key parameter in its design.


Along the supply chain, Lord Corporation, a manufacturer and developer of vibration, noise and motion control parts on helicopters and fixed-wing, interestingly rose the point about external noise in relation to the next-generation of rotorcraft and how this affects certain communities around the world.

‘With external noise, there is a sensitivity to that but I think we are seeing more of that in Europe than the US. Although there are signs that it is becoming an issue in the US. I believe tours were restricted in New York city – with issues also around the Grand Canyon,’ Scott Miller, marketing manager at Lord Corporation commented to me.

This point was further emphasised by a case in Denham, UK, where complaints were made about training helicopters in proximity to residential dwellings.

The overarching aim of all these projects is for accessible transportation in large urban environments and while noise regulations is not a forefront concern at this stage, with pedestrians already bombarded by road noise, the widespread appearance of VTOL commuters will likely become an issue.

IMDEX Asia: Singaporean Navy dominates the headlines

Shephard Media is currently busy reporting at the 11th edition of IMDEX Asia 2017 at the Changi Exhibition centre in Singapore.

What is already evident from this year’s show is that maritime security remains a growing sector for the Asia-Pacific region and this is being demonstrated by the wide range of exhibitors.


The Republic of Singapore Navy is currently dominating the news stories on their home patch as they scout for a joint multimission ship to replace some of its older Endurance-class LSTs.

The service is celebrating its 50 year anniversary and has a warship display at the show demonstrative of its naval might.

On 15 May, Changi Naval Base had its name formally changed to RSS Singapura – Changi Naval Base. The Ministry of Defence said the name change, echoing the RSN’s first headquarters name, ‘will serve as a reminder to RSN personnel of the RSN’s heritage and vital role in defending Singapore’.


This naval facility, located along a strategically important sea lane connecting the Strait of Malacca and the South China Sea, hosts more than 100 foreign warships each year.

Furthermore, another big headline at IMDEX Asia this week was the announcement that the navy will acquire an additional two Type 218SG diesel-electric submarines from German shipbuilder Thyssenkrupp Marine Systems (TKMS).

This takes the total Type 218SG boats on order to four. The TKMS design was originally selected in November 2013, with an order for two and options for two more. The first pair of boats is already under construction at the company’s shipyard in Kiel, Germany, and will be delivered in 2020-21.

For more news from the show please see

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