Author Archives: helenhaxell

The world according to Shephard: Week 6

There’s been plenty to catch the eye this week not least from the Singapore Air Show 2018.

In typical roving reporter style, the Shephard team based in Singapore has been filing copy and producing video content by the bucket load. For those of you that might have missed the big stories, the flight-line video is a good starting point, especially if you’re a fast jets aficionado – as the USMC Lockheed Martin F-35B made its first appearance in Southeast Asia.

Watch the team’s overview of what went on here:

 

But, if, like this writer, you want to see the rotary offerings, Beth Maundrill, senior reporter at Shephard, takes you through the Republic of Singapore Air Force’s fleet with some of its whirlybirds on display, see more details here.

Land-based news this week saw Shephard with a scoop brought to you by staff reporter, Alice Budge.

US support for Iraq’s fleet of M1 Abrams tanks is continuing despite acknowledgement from the US government that the vehicles have been deployed and used by an Iranian-backed militia.

Recent reports in Iraqi media outlets suggested that the US had suspended its maintainence support for the tanks at the end of last year after some were found in the hands of a militia known as the Popular Mobilisation Forces.

Iraqi soldiers conduct training with M1 Abrams tank

According to a US state department official, speaking to Shephard, the US is still committed to supporting the country’s security forces fleet.

Two highly in-depth opinion pieces were live this week. Firstly, the political positioning of the proposed construction of a Silk Road Economic Belt.

The Geobukseon states: ‘Commonly referred to as the…One Belt, One Road (OBOR), its broad agenda ranges from economic development to security enhancements and military defence expansion.

Moving from Asia to Europe, the second opinon piece this week, part of Shephard’s The Clarence series is on a recent UK government report that outlines the future of the country’s Amphibious Forces.

While it is sombre in tone with a focus on the cuts to the Royal Marines and the scrapping of HMS Albion and Bulwark – it does provide a reality check to the detrimental damage further cuts to personnel and loss of ships will do to national security.

HELICOPTERS JOIN HMS QUEEN ELIZABETH AS SHE SAILS ON FIRST AIRCRAFT TRIALS

The US-based team has been attending shows and conferences in abundance, Scott Gourley has been attending West 2018 in San Diego, California.

He has been covering a wealth of news: from the upcoming deployment of the US Navy’s guided missile destroyer USS Milius highlighting the real world consequences of ongoing manning shortfalls to the development of an ‘autonomous data centre in a briefcase.’

From Washington, DC, Ashley Roque is at the Unmanned Systems conference and has drilled into details on the US military requiring industry’s help when it comes to more efficiently powering its unmanned systems.

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Lastly, and because it’s Friday, this week’s free-to-view analysis piece comes from editor, Grant Turnbull and land reporter Alice Budge on the companies posturing their wares to the British Army for its 8×8 vehicle with the army’s decision expected very soon.

Shephard looks closely at what is being laid on the table to the woo service to pick them.

 

POLL: Does the UK need to start spending more on defence?

As the old saying goes a week is a long time in politics. All eyes are now firmly on the newly-appointed UK Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson and he might want to take note of the Shephard News Twitter poll we undertook last week as he decides priorities.

We asked:

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We had more than 1,200 respondents and 782 of these voted “yes” to the UK needing to spend more than 2% of its GDP on the defence sector.

While it is not as black and white as a yes or no response, we have included some of the responses and engagement to our ‘unscientific’ poll.

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What are the main defence areas governments should be turning their attention to? Do you have ideas for our next poll? Add your ideas in the comments section below.

 Training transition

In 2015, the US Army selected the Airbus Helicopters UH-72 Lakota to replace the Bell Helicopter TH-67 Creek training aircraft under the Aviation Restructuring Initiative (ARI). It was a controversial move for many reasons.

There was scepticism surrounding pilots learning on heavier, dual-engine aircraft as opposed to the lighter, single-engine platforms that the service was used to.

There are currently 150 UH-72As at Fort Rucker, the base for primary flight training. A further 212 Lakotas are in service with the Air National Guard.

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The UH-72A Lakota on display at AUSA 2017 in Washington DC

When the army announced details of the ARI, many analysts argued that the Lakota was too complex an aircraft for novice pilots, due to its twin engines and glass cockpit. Significantly larger in size than the average training helicopter, the type could prove troublesome should new aviators progress to older, analogue models.

However, Airbus noted that the army’s active fleet is made up of twin-engine platforms with glass cockpits. Extra time and costs previously spent training pilots to transition from the original single-engine training platform to an aircraft in service are eliminated by using the Lakota. With the US Army prospectively ordering additional aircraft, the scepticism seems to be no longer part of the procurement dialogue.

Airbus Helicopters was awarded the original UH-72 contract in 2006, and the first aircraft,was delivered in the same year. The 400th Lakota was received by the US Army in August this year, and the type is now entering the final stages of fully replacing the TH-67 Creek as the service’s principal helicopter trainer, as detailed in the ARI.

‘The 400 deliveries have all been on time and on cost which is a pretty significant accomplishment in the defence world,’ said Scott Tumpak, senior director of the Lakota programme at Airbus Helicopters. This year, the company is hoping to continue this success as it aims to complete delivery of 27 aircraft.

‘[We provide] contractor logistics support as well. Right now, we are fielding those aircraft to Fort Rucker for the training mission,’ he added. With regards to the transition from the TH-67 to the Lakota, Tumpak said that the army is ‘flipping’ towards 75% usage of the latter as the ramp-up continues.

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Shephard in the cockpit of the Lakota

He believes that a twin-engine aircraft is a key training platform. ‘If we think about the US Army’s training missions with the current Lakota, it’s optimal for their training mission.’

The breakdown of UH-72s being delivered has been based on the army’s demands, and in one instance, Tumpak said a batch of 55 aircraft were delivered.

More than 460,000 flight hours have been achieved across the Lakota fleet since 2006. Six aircraft are also operated by the Royal Thai Army, and the USN has five examples at its test pilot school in Patuxent River.

Lakotas over Grayling

Tumpak confirmed that there is a possibility that Thailand will take on more aircraft, but could not confirm further details at this stage. In addition, there are other militaries interested in the platform through the FMS route.

However, staying stateside, Tumpak commented that the army ‘has increased its own requirement, and there’s appropriate funding through Congress. We are looking forward to a contract for a further 44 aircraft.’ The army requirement is now at 462 helicopters.

For a full version of this article please see the Nov-Dec edition of DH and for more on our magazines see here.

Black Hawk Dawn

Ex-military helicopter designs entering the commercial market are potentially breathing life into the industry, with CH-47 and UH-60 Black Hawk variants now entering service from North America to Australia.

In August, the US Army Contracting Command Redstone, on behalf of the Utility Helicopters Project Management Office, announced the availability of 14 UH-60A Black Hawk helicopters for sale under the Black Hawk Exchange and Sales Team programme.

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From a Hawk to Orca

This could mean we see more refurbished examples of the type appearing in the civil domain in the next few years worldwide. However, with the market just keeping its head above water following the economic downturn, do these models pose healthy competition or oversupply if taken into the civil sector?

Three years on from the first Black Hawk auction, companies are bringing forth their overhauled aircraft to the commercial market. Some of the major players that refurbish ex-US Army Black Hawks are Arista Aviation, BHI2, Global Aviation Solutions, Rogerson Kratos and Unical Defense.

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The Black Hawk, having been on the frontline of combat in Afghanistan and Iraq as well other theatres, is suited to the hot and high environments of southern European regions during the summer fire season. While refurbished models have already been tasked with firefighting missions, other sectors that could utilise the platforms include SAR, EMS and law enforcement.

Sikorsky Australia recently announced that it will refurbish ten ex-US Army rotorcraft for firefighting and disaster relief operations. The A$63 million ($50 million) contract announced on 27 July will see deliveries of the Black Hawks to StarFlight Australia begin in Q1 2018.

StarFlight, a joint venture that was established in 2015 by LifeFlight and Kaan Air, also holds an option on a further ten helicopters of the same type.

Under the contract, Sikorsky Australia will structurally refurbish the aircraft and install new engines, main and tail rotor gearboxes and drivetrain and a new rescue hoist. The cockpit will be upgraded with a helicopter terrain awareness and warning system.

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What will be interesting to see is if these helicopters really establish themselves in the European market or if they are held up by regulations as they convert to civil usage. It is likely that the red tape might just delay things, and operators might experience hassle here.

In March 2017, Sikorsky confirmed at Heli-Expo that it is committed to serving the growing technical and logistical support needs of more than 30 commercial operators who have acquired surplus UH-60A.

Also at the show, Darrell Kindley, CEO of Global Aviation Solutions, told RH that the Acehawk, one of the company’s refurbished Black Hawks, was expected to receive its STC by the Q2 2018.

The Acehawk is a retrofit kit available for UH-60A/Ls and S-70 aircraft, and the aircraft is to be marketed worldwide as well as in the US.

The Acehawk cockpit features four 12in, 4K displays and two touchscreen controllers, panoramic view and aynthetic vision technology, and the option to integrate third-party radios, sensors and other mission equipment without affecting the G5000H core software.

The Black Hawk is a robust and versatile helicopter, which has more than proven itself in the military arena. However, with a civil market bustling with new platforms and legacy medium to heavy aircraft fairly capable of undertaking firefighting missions, the Black Hawk will have to get its claws in pretty deep to prove it is not a flighty bird and will be able to stay the long term in the civil market.

Never a dull moment

While progress has continued across US military helicopter programmes, one platform that has garnered its share of headlines is the Black Hawk, with developments in the Middle East and across Asia-Pacific.

As more refurbished UH-60s take on an array of roles in the civil market, the aircraft remains a popular choice for military forces.

Notably, in June this year, Sikorsky received the go-ahead from the US Army for a five-year contract worth $3.8 billion, which includes 40 UH-60M Black Hawks to Saudi Arabia. There is scope for another 103 aircraft, meaning the contract could rise by a further $1.4 billion. It is anticipated that first deliveries will take place three months from now and carry on into 2022.

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A Sikorsky spokesperson stated that the base contract of 257 aircraft includes 182 UH-60M Black Hawks – 142 for the US Army and the 40 for the Saudi Arabian National Guard (SANG) – as well as 75 HH-60M medevac aircraft.

In July, the Royal Thai Army (RTA) ordered four more UH-60M Black Hawks from Sikorsky after receiving US Congressional approval. This acquisition will enable the RTA to field a complete squadron of 16 aircraft.

In addition, the Republic of China Air Force will replace its Sikorsky S-70C Bluehawk fleet with UH-60M Black Hawks beginning in December, it announced in April, while in August, the Brazilian Air Force announced that its UH-60L Black Hawk had reached 30,000 flight hours.

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Meanwhile, the US Army’s programme to upgrade its legacy UH-60L Black Hawks with a new digital cockpit is proceeding apace following the first flight of the prototype model in January. Some 760 legacy UH-60L models 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.

However, it is not just the Black Hawk spreading its wings across the globe. Boeing’s military helicopter offerings in the form of the AH-64E and AH-6i have also been gathering momentum, with the first set of the latter received by the SANG in June. The 12 aircraft were delivered to the first operational brigade.

The company has also been awarded a $223 million FMS contract for eight CH-47F Chinooks, as part of a wider multiyear deal with Saudi Arabia, the US DoD announced on 23 August, while in June the UK MoD announced a six-year £48 million Apache helicopter training contract.

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Boeing is not the only company for whom there have been developments, with a number of news items – both positive and negative – emerging for other OEMs.

MD Helicopters revealed in March at Heli-Expo 2017 that its new 6XX will be marketed to military as well as civil customers. It was originally designed for a foreign military customer, but it is unlikely a contract will materialise.

At another helicopter show, MAKS 2017 in Moscow, Russian Helicopters showcased its latest military derivative of the Mi-8/17 portfolio, the Mi-171Sh-VN attack helicopter.

While Pakistan’s navy is set to receive seven former UK MoD Sea Kings by the end of this year, Leonardo will supply an undisclosed number of AW139 intermediate twin-engine helicopters to the government of the country early next year.

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However, an Indian Navy deal valued at over $1 billion for 16 multirole helicopters was given a quiet burial after being scrapped by the MoD. Price negotiations with Sikorsky for the S-70B Seahawk collapsed in June, ending a deal that held much promise for the navy, which is wrestling with issues in relation to its current Sea King fleet.

Bell Helicopter highlighted imminent deliveries of its tiltrotor and attack helicopter offerings across Asia at the Paris Air Show. The company will see the first V-22 handed over to Japan in September/ October this year while the AH-1Z Viper will start to be delivered to Pakistan soon.

Sikorsky’s CH-53K King Stallion is entering production and company officials are confident that the USMC Heavy Lift Replacement Program is on track.

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Find the latest edition of Defence Helicopter here and more news online.

 

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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(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 shephardmedia.com

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