Author Archives: helenhaxell

Heli-Expo 2017: The power of X and U

You never forget your first. This was my first Heli-Expo and it had full on X appeal. Firstly, the week started with the great reveal of the FCX-001 by Bell Helicopter.

The concept helicopter was inspired by company CEO Mitch Snyder’s push for innovation since assuming his role 18 months ago.


The medium twin-sized helicopter has a strong emphasis on automated technologies on board to aid the pilot and passengers.

With a strong sci-fi influence on the design and lines of the aircraft, one of the main noticeable features is the anti-torque system embedded in the tail boom. Thus, there is no tail rotor but the capacity to open up the thrust vectoring through the capability.

MD Helicopters launched the next-generation of the MD500, the 6XX at last year’s Heli-Expo. This year was a confirmation that the aircraft was aiming to be ready by 2019 in either civil or military configuration.



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An interesting comparison between the two platforms is the influences from the automotive industry on the design.

Bell’s Scott Drennan, director of engineering innovation, told Shephard how the team behind the FCX-001 was inspired by the capacity for the car industry to experiment with conceptual technologies and vehicles.

Likewise, several features on board the 6XX, including the sliding door capability, were drawn from MD Helicopters CEO Lynn Tilton’s experience at Dura Automotive Systems.

An underlying, and perhaps understated, theme running through the show was unmanned vehicles. President and CEO of Helicopter Association International, Matt Zuccaro described the prominence of UAVs and how they will change how the industry does business – with a particular emphasis on the safety narrative.

Aircraft tracking company Spidertracks hatched upon a popular promotion during the show – giving away a trip to New Zealand to one lucky purchaser of its products.

Furthermore, Shephard witnessed the showcasing of Vertivue’s Skybox stabilised camera system.

The Skybox allows gimballed camera systems developed for small UAVs to be effectively integrated on the nose of a helicopter, at a drastically reduced cost to the installation of a more complex gimballed system developed specifically for larger aircraft.

While the footfall may not have been as impressive as previous years, with over 70 helicopters on display including six civil configured Black Hawks – what can be learnt from the show is there is optimism in whirlybirds after the oil and gas price woes. This year’s focus was about optimism and not orders.


For all the news and videos from the week take a look at our coverage on the Shephard website.

Heli-Expo 2017: Show highlights from Shephard Media on Vimeo.

Heli-Expo 2017: Shephard hits town

The Shephard team arrived in Dallas, Texas on Saturday night for a week of helicopter excitement at Heli-Expo 2017.

After some steaks, birthday cake and a good night sleep, the team went out and about to explore.

For the rest of the show we are hard at work bringing you all the latest helicopter news. Keep an eye on our show news site for updates through out the week.

For now enjoy the behind the scenes video:

Heli-Expo 2017: Here we go

This year Heli-Expo will be in Dallas, Texas. With more than 60 aircraft expected to be on display and over 700 international exhibitors – the show is looking to be as big and bold as ever.

The health of the oil and gas sector is sure to be part of the narrative of the show although there is a quiet optimism that is expected to resonate around the exhibition hall all along the supply chain.


A buzzword which is bound to be flying around is innovation. Although it’s obviously not a new term or a surprising one, it does indicate what the larger companies have been up to during the economic downturn in the commercial helicopter market.

The usual faces will be there, in the form of the major OEMs, with Bell promising a ‘new look’.


The company will be displaying its Bell 525 Relentless VVIP MAGnificent, Bell 429, Bell 407 GXP, along with the newly-certified Bell 505 Jet Ranger X.

Airbus Helicopters will have their H175, H145, H135, and H130 on display at HAI with H160 virtual experience. The H160 is anticipated to receive certification next year.


The show will again be a hub of innovation, new products and upgraded platforms. Announcements are expected from the lessors to supplies, and won’t just be exclusive to the larger manufacturers.

Leonardo, MD Helicopters, Heli-One, Universal Avionics, Honeywell, Waypoint Leasing are just some of the names that have confirmed their presence at the event.

The real mark of success for Heli-Expo 2017 will be dictated by the deals, orders and sales as the market climbs out of a low, the show will hopefully be indicative of the forthcoming rise.

Shephard will be at Heli-Expo 2017 see our show news site for all the latest news and videos direct from Dallas.

Wildcat: trials of the beast

Last week, I attended the Royal Aeronautical Society’s talk by Mark Burnand, deputy chief test pilot at Leonardo Helicopters, on ‘flight testing the AW159 Wildcat’.

With the flight testing having a primary focus on deck trials, Burnand discussed at length the nail-biting challenges that face Wildcat helicopter pilots as they approach a ship’s deck.

In approach towards the ship, considerations to take into account that could affect a landing are turbulence, the natural horizon, the ship’s motion, sea states and wind, among many others.

USS Wasp flight operations

Burnand outlined the ship trial objectives that the Wildcat team sought to address during exercises.

‘To develop the widest possible envelope in terms of wind speed and direction… to the ship and maximum deck motion limits,’ he said.

With its rugged undercarriage, the aircraft is designed for ship landings in challenging environments. He explained further that the Wildcat was ‘inherently flexible and that allows precision’.

The rotor is semi-rigged, stiff with no flapping hinges on the blades, and they therefore flap only slightly when the aircraft is static on the deck.

Last month, Leonardo confirmed it will continue to support the Wildcat helicopter fleet with the UK MoD outlined in a five-year deal.

Training and support services will be provided by the OEM for the entire fleet of 62 aircraft across the Royal Navy and Army Air Corps.

With the Wildcat regarded as the next-generation of Lynx aircraft, Burnand stipulated that comparatively the aircraft are completely different, although a pilot who has flown in both will feel it is a familiar aircraft.

‘[Both aircraft’s] agility, handling qualities are similar as they have a similar rotor system,’ Burnand said.

Artemis Trident

Describing the Wildcat as a ‘flexible beast’, he noted that flight trials took place over a few years and in a variety of conditions during day and night. On the whole, the trials took place off the British Isles although on occasion some took place in Middle Eastern waters.

Book review: Cheating Death

Cheating Death – Combat Air Rescues in Vietnam and Laos by George J. Marrett

CSAR helicopters for any military are integral during operations and regardless of where they are operating they need to be able to undertake covert missions in hot or cold conditions.

The S-61R/HH-3E, coined the ‘Jolly Green Giant’, was utilised by the US Air Force (USAF) during the US war in Vietnam to conduct rescue operations of downed military crews in the Southeast Asian tropics.

George J. Marrett outlines in a candid and adrenaline-powered account, the dangers and duty of being a pilot of the Douglas A-1 Skyraider alongside the Jolly Green helicopters during the Vietnam conflict.


He recounts vividly many of the 188 operations he undertook from the intense scouring of the tree canopies to locate a fallen comrade while rapidly running out of fuel to avoiding ground fire with the Jolly Greens.

One thing we can take away from this compelling account is the paramount importance of aircraft avionics suites during CSAR operations.

In some instances, Marrett recalled the crews and himself utilising handheld maps and plain sight to locate enemy or in the search for fallen air force and navy troops.

Lessons learnt here show that since the end of the US quagmire in Vietnam, technology has come so far in assisting with the successes in rescue missions.

Today, the USAF predominantly operates the HH-60G Pave Hawk. The aircraft is a variant of the UH-60L Black Hawk and is tasked with mainly CSAR and special operations.

Last summer, USAF introduced the first of 21 Pave Hawks operational loss replacement aircraft. The programme is restoring the fleet to its authorised size replacing those lost during combat in the last 15 years.

This is a stop gap replacement until the Combat Rescue Helicopter (CRH) and UH-1N replacement programme take over in earnest with the replacement fleet to be filled by 112 helicopters as required by the US military.

The development programme by Sikorsky/Lockheed Martin is expected to see the fleet replaced by 2029.

At the end of last year, Sikorsky inaugurated a new Systems Integration Lab in Stratford, Connecticut, to initiate testing key systems for the CRH programme. Testing will include focus on the avionics, electronic flight controls, electric power and integrated vehicle diagnostics.

This process will allow simulations to take place and enable any issues to be brought to the fore before test flights.

Cheating Death conveys that with heroics, guts and a robust aircraft, most missions were ultimately successful. The gift of hindsight teaches us that once luck is put aside, advancing technologies are the way forward for safer operations in challenging environments.

The Year Ahead

Global politics will dictate the forthcoming year for the defence industry. This is heightened by new leaders taking office, as well as presidential elections throughout the world including those in Rwanda, Singapore, Germany, France and Iran.

Furthermore, on-going conflicts in Syria and recent terrorist attacks are sure to dominate the headlines.

Will changes in leadership bring a new set of procurement objectives for Western militaries in particular? Will defence budgets be less constrained? Time will tell.

Regardless of your politics, the world watches with bated breath as Donald Trump takes the helm on 20 January as the 45th president of the US.

It will be interesting to see if the commander-in-chief’s candour continues through his Twitter explosions of honesty.

He most recently lambasted the pricing of the F-35 and not forgetting his comments on Boeing and the cost of Air Force One. There’s bound to be a lot of anxiety amongst aerospace and defence companies stateside as Trump uses his second amendment right to an extreme.


The show must go on and here at Shephard we have been looking at some of the key programmes across land, sea and air worldwide that we expect to hear about over the next 12 months.


Over in the US, BAE Systems is set to deliver its M88A2 recovery vehicles to the army this is expected from November this year.

The M1 and Bradley vehicles are scheduled to get the 3GEN FLIR night vision system. A preliminary design review was due at the end of 2016 and it is not clear if this has happened although a critical design review is scheduled for spring 2017.

Staying in North America, Canada is due to take delivery of all 500 TAPV vehicles from Textron by the end of the year with a schedule of 30 vehicles per month. Deliveries started in August last year.

Brazil is due to take delivery of 23 AAV7A1 amphibious vehicles from BAE Systems in February and this will continue until the end of the year.


China’s military strength is likely to remain a dominant media fixture this year. This was recently heightened by the People’s Liberation Army Navy aggressive taking of an unmanned underwater vessel of the US Navy just 50nm off the coast of the Philippines. It was returned five days later.

India is attempting to build an indigenous capability with the Rustom II MALE UAV that first flew last year. The platform is likely to carry out more flight testing in 2017, although the delayed programme has not inspired confidence in the navy, which has requested navalised MQ-9 Predators from the US.

The evolution of the combat RPA

Australia is worth keeping an eye on with its ambitious naval renewal programmes for new ships of the line and a fleet of new-build OPVs.

Another country motivated by China’s aggressive actions is Japan who recently enhanced its Self-Defence Force with a 1.4% funding boost for the FY to $43.66 billion. A budgetary increase also influenced by the nuclear testing undertaken by North Korea.


Contracts for the assessment phase of the Challenger 2 Life Extension Programme to the two remaining contractors, BAE and Rheinmetall were awarded in December 2016 and this year they will submit options to the British Army and we will find out what budget it has and the number of tanks it can keep.


Across Europe countries are beginning to move to what could one day make up the core of a European naval defence force, as cash strapped navies share assets, training and personnel in a bid to maintain some of their capabilities. Plans to create a European Coast Guard service also received backing by MEPs in 2016.

As dozens of helicopters were subsequently reassigned, to both find work for idle machines and to fill the gaps created by the H225 grounding, several owners of the Super Puma launched legal action against Airbus.


The big helicopter story of 2017 is likely to be the future of the aircraft, and its return to widespread service and whether the company is able to restore confidence in the type.

Whoever is in power, in control of the purchasing and/or the product developer, Shephard  will be reporting on the deals and orders. We will see you on the show floor – starting with IDEX 2017.

Commercial green shoots in Brazil

Brazil has the ninth largest economy in the world, and within South America, São Paulo has one of the highest levels of helicopter ownership for a city.

Along with oil and gas operations off the coast, therefore, it is fair to say that the country has a demand for helicopters.

However, Brazil is emerging from a recent political crisis and licking its wounds from the oil downturn, like many other nations.

São Paulo is in close proximity to Itajubá, where Brazilian rotorcraft manufacturer Helibras, a subsidiary of Airbus Helicopters, is based.

I recently visited the site and there was a renewed buzz about business after a few years of declining commercial aircraft sales. This is not over-zealous, as seven helicopters are expected to be sold this year compared to just two in 2015.

Richard Marelli, CEO of Helibras, confirmed that last year’s sales were significantly down compared to normal years and was frank in his observations:

‘The civil market has been terrible. Last year, we sold two aircraft. In normal years for Helibras, we sold [about] 25 and in very good years [such as 2010] we sold [around] 40-42 aircraft.’

He added that civil sales for the company were generally in the light to medium range, including the H135, H145 and a couple of Dauphin variants.


(Photo: author)

In 2017, Helibras is aiming for nine aircraft to be sold. Assisting Helibras’ recovery is the fact it dominates the domestic commercial market. Its main competitors are small service centres which are located throughout the country. These rival companies are highly unlikely to challenge Helibras’s lion’s share of the market.

Adding to the general economic woes from the flatlining energy market, Brazil has had to also contend with scandals surrounding the state-owned oil company, Petrobras, where funds were allegedly moved around by politicians and company officials from the executive board. This has naturally impacted confidence.

However, the H225 has been a good servant of Helibras and for offshore missions in the region.

The availability of the new H160 medium utility helicopter in Brazil is likely to provide the company with a welcome boost to its commercial activity. Around four prospective sales for the type have been earmarked to date.

In France, a customer demonstration tour of the model took place in October and a potential buyer from Brazil was present.

The H160 is expected to receive certification in 2017. In the summer of 2016, Airbus Helicopters revealed that first customer deliveries of the platform were anticipated for the end of 2018.


(Photo: Airbus Helicopters)

This pushes the initial offshore transport variant into 2019, by which time the oil and gas market is hoped to be more stable.

On the military front, one of the first tasks for the Itajubá facility was fulfilling the company’s contract with the Brazilian government to manufacturer and deliver 50 H225Ms.

The first of five to be configured as a naval combat variant is expected to be delivered to the Brazilian Navy in April 2018 after certification trials. The platforms will be equipped with MBDA’s AM39 Exocet air-to-surface missiles.


(Photo: author)

In August Airbus Helicopters scored a publicity coup when 90 of its helicopters were used for the Olympic and Paralympic Games – with 35 aircraft from the Brazilian armed forces. The company cited 98% availability during the games.

This was achieved through inspections of H225M, Fennec and Panther K2 aircraft, according to Marelli. The nadir of the oil and gas crisis looks to have been reached in 2016. With dollar prices starting to stabilise in the high 50s per barrel, this will provide quiet optimism within the commercial market that looks to continue into next year.

For more on Helibras and its role within the Brazilian helicopter market, see our analysis on the commercial and military market respectively.

Don’t forget to check out the December/January edition of Rotorhub for further details on civilian helicopter operations throughout the globe, including news from the US Coast Guard’s fleet and a new aircraft joining Starspeed in the UK.

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