Tag Archives: aviation

Dubai Airshow 2017: What a week!

Back in the office after a week of Arabian sun the world can seem an altogether colder experience, less like warm evenings spent writing stories and crunching videos beneath Dubai’s glittering spires.

In a bid then to sooth the winter blues we’ve taken the entirely selfish decision to return again to the DWC flight line and massed ranks of companies, products and people in the exhibition hall.

Given that it was an airshow it is unsurprising that much of the material we gathered and mulled over during the course of the week concerned aircraft. From trainers to light attack, rotary to transport, the show had it all.

Among the most noticeable was Japan, keen to show off its C-2 and in simply travelling to Dubai managed to complete the trans-continental flight section of its test and evaluation process.

In-country manufacturing capability was also on the agenda, with the UAE looking to expand its industrial base to allow and enable domestic production of a range of platforms and systems. Among these was Calidus’ B-250 light attack aircraft.

Elsewhere, the UAS Summit, sponsored by Shephard, took in all the comings and goings in the UAE’s burgeoning drone industry. From applications to regulations, the panellists, keynote speakers and audience covered the topics length and breadth, concluding with minutes to spare.

One significant point was raised early on the first day touching on the UAE’s approach to the question of operator regulations.

Finally, after what was a tough but thoroughly rewarding week we came down to the final set-up and the wrap of some of the highlights on the flight line. By this time, around about the 60 hour mark of show coverage, our rotary editor, Helen Haxell, thought it apt to sign off in a style that is likely to become a signature all of its own.

Thanks to everyone that checked out the show site, read the stories and viewed the videos. We look forward to doing it again in two years.

The case for the tiltrotor

As the US Army aviation community gathers in Nashville for the annual Mission Solutions Summit – where industry will be provided updates on various army upgrade programmes – our cover story in the latest issue of Defence Helicopter features one platform the service doesn’t fly.

While there are far fewer USAF CV-22B Ospreys in service than those flown by their Marine Corps brethren, the use of the tiltrotor for special operations missions over the past decade has equally changed the way the USAF does business.

We recently gained a valuable insight in what it takes to prepare crews to fly the CV-22, with intrepid reporter Barry Smith spending several days with the training unit, the 71st Special Operations Squadron (SOS), at Kirtland AFB, New Mexico.

The Osprey is tailor-made for the vast distances encountered in many of the regions the US finds itself operating in, thanks to such features as an aerial refuelling capability, allowing the USAF and USMC to ‘collapse speed and distance’, in the words of one marine commander.

However, despite a decade of intense and relatively incident-free operations, the fatal accidents that dogged the V-22’s development continues to cast a long shadow. One obvious manifestation of this has been the public reaction in Okinawa to MV-22 operations there, particularly after an accident on 13 December that temporarily grounded the fleet. Given Japan itself is purchasing the V-22, it will be interesting to watch how that shapes public perception there in the years to come.

The suitability of the tiltrotor in meeting the gamut of demanding military missions will also be placed further under the spotlight by the US Army, as it works through the Future Vertical Lift programme in the years ahead.

And that question takes us back to Kirtland AFB, where the 71st SOS has a training syllabus that is finely honed to the unique challenges of flying the V-22.

The training focuses on the importance of CV-22 pilots and special mission aviators (SMAs) – essentially a combination of the flight engineer and loadmaster career fields with many other duties – working together, particularly given the famous rotor downwash of the Osprey, which requires close crew coordination to land in an unimproved landing zone.

Collective dyslexia

One of the biggest personal challenges transitioning from helicopters to the V-22 is the added control input of changing the angle of the engine nacelles, something the commanding officer of the unit said resulted in ‘collective dyslexia’. While this does require some getting used to, ‘everyone figures it out just fine’.

The danger of entering a ring vortex state, which was a serious problem in early USMC tiltrotor operations, is also now well understood and students are taught how to avoid it. They are also shown how to stay out of the rotor wash of other V-22s with very specific techniques and parameters.

This is not unique to the V-22 and, as the commander correctly pointed out, all aircraft have parts of the flight envelope to avoid.

Operating the V-22 will remain within the reach of very few militaries around the world, given the aircraft’s procurement and sustainment costs. While the speed and range of the platform are clearly unmatched by any other VTOL aircraft, the smaller proprotors limits the V-22’s ability to go into a hot, high-altitude landing zone at a high gross weight. In such conditions, a helicopter such as the CH-47 Chinook may well be the better choice.

Nevertheless, the story of the 71st SOS and the effectiveness of the CV-22 training programme is a provocative one in the context of the US Army’s current examination of tiltrotor versus compound coaxial for its future rotorcraft fleet.

Bell Helicopter is developing its V-280 tiltrotor as part of the army’s Joint Multirole – Technology Demonstrator effort, while Sikorsky-Boeing is advancing the SB>1 Defiant co-axial compound helicopter for the requirement – the latter recently announcing the maiden flight of the Defiant will be delayed to the first half of next year.

Despite facing off against the two industry giants in the sector, Bell will be no doubt hoping that established operations with the V-22 across three of the services will help tilt the race in its favour.

For more on the operations of the 71st SOS, see the May-June issue of Defence Helicopter

The eye-watering cost of modern military aircraft

Designing, developing and delivering a new state-of-the art aircraft is no mean feat. But the cost of some of the latest and greatest aerospace technology is enough to make your eyes water.

Luckily the US has a pretty huge defence budget and by all accounts President Trump is looking to increase defence spending, according to his budget published earlier this month.

So let’s look at some of the most costly US aircraft on the market at the moment. Here at Quill we have whittled it down to three, but if you have any others feel free to leave a comment below.

First off we have the MV-22 Osprey with a flyaway cost of $71.92 million per unit. Now this seems like a lot until you get to the next two we’ve lined up. Really this might just be a relatively expensive bit of kit to put things into perspective…

Second, another helicopter, the CH-53K King Stallion. Is estimated that per unit cost will be around $130 million per aircraft, including the R&D. Another hefty sum, especially considering the aircraft has been in development since 2003 and is a maturation of technology from the CH-53A, CH-53D/G, and CH-53E predecessors.

Potential foreign military sales, Germany is known to be interested, could bring the cost of the aircraft down somewhat.

The CH-53K recently entered low rate initial production.

Lastly, this comment would not be complete without mention of the controversial F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

Latest findings by the US Government Accountability Office (GAO) breaks down the aircraft cost as follows.

R&D: $1.7 billion; Procurement: $209.7 billion; Total funding: $214 billion; all for a total procurement quantity of 2,158 aircraft.

The GAO puts the programme unit cost at $136.814 million. Now if you’ve been watching the news even President Trump thinks this is very costly, stating that costs are ‘out of control’.

However, it should be noted that Lockheed Martin is looking at ways to cut the cost and as more lots of the aircraft enter production this is likely. As well as foreign military sales helping drive down costs. The Navy’s aircraft is set to be reduced in cost by up to $100 million by 2020 according to reports.

Ultimately, the F-35 could become less expensive than the CH-53K helicopter. Now fancy that.


The art of flying: Or how to lose friends and alienate people

This week BALPA released seven reasons not to be scared of flying as Brits go on their holidays this August Bank Holiday weekend.

BALPA sought to address the anxiety of nervous flyers, reassuring them about turbulence and stating that it was highly unlikely for a modern aircraft to be brought down by it – although to always wear a seat belt when seated.

‘More than 3.5 billion people flew safely on 37.6 million flights last year and there were only four fatal accidents,’ the BALPA release noted.

Here at Shephard we are adept at flying as we attend shows across the globe from Eurosatory 2016 in Paris, DIMDEX in Doha to FIDAE in Santiago, Chile [we have more shows coming up, including AUSA in Washington DC, Helitech International 2016 in Amsterdam and MSPO in Poland: see www.shephardmedia.com for further details – ed].


Therefore, things like turbulence over the Atlantic or storms as you travel across the Pacific are small fly to us.

However, during a group therapy session at Shephard Towers, we have shared our top five bugbears (in no particular order) when flying. If you would like to contribute to the list, please do make your suggestions in the comment box below.

1.The toilet – The reasons for why are endless – like the queue when there’s 30 minutes till landing. Like the time one of our journos went to the toilet forgetting they had taken their shoes off only to stand in an ominous puddle. On one long haul flight to the States, Shephard had to come to the rescue when people struggled to understand the mechanics of the toilet door once inside the cubicle.

‘They kept pushing the door, thinking they were stuck. Sitting by the toilet, I had to save each one, telling them to step back from the door so it opens. They thought I was some kind of engineering genius.’

2. People – Hell is other people on a ten-hour flight – whether they are reclining and making you spill your Stella Artois onto your lap or they have a child that either looks at you through the seats or howls the whole journey.

Passengers on aircraft are challenging beings: taking off socks as well as shoes, loud eaters, the utilisation of a Ped-egg on one’s feet is something that cannot be unseen, and the shoving in of overhead luggage.

737 Space Bins at 737 Configuration Studio

Overhead luggage is like a game of chess. Bet her fellow passengers aren’t smiling.

3. Food – Nothing is more satisfying at 30,000ft than a dried roll, limp-looking lettuce and a plastic ham sandwich. Man on the moon? Simple. Aerodynamic aluminium carrying up to a few hundred people? Done. Non-dry, unpalatable, plastic food made tasty and appetising – it’s an evolution not a revolution.

4. Cabin crew – With the utmost respect to those that service us in the sky in a challenging environment that smells of stale eggs an hour in. Sometimes a surly cabin crew can bring a damper on our excitement of travelling to faraway lands reporting on military logistics or recent procurements and acquisitions. Service with a smile is always welcome.

Gareth asleep

5. Ourselves – There’s nothing worse than having a soirée the night before to let loose after a physically and ‘journalistically’ challenging show to then get on board a plane feeling ruff [#national dog day], watching the same films on repeat like Toy Story 3 and general restlessness as the journey edges into its nine hours across time zones enforcing the loss of a day in the process before returning to work the next day.

First for more…

Last week I visited Bell Helicopter’s regional aftermarket, delivery and customisation service centre in Prague, Czech Republic.

The painting facility at the centre had its ribbon cut at a staff and press official opening ceremony and the hi-tech booth will be able to serve all Bell aircraft. This will assist the speed of the customer delivery process from the facility.

Another first was the handing over of the keys of the grey Bell 429 with its VIP/corporate configuration at the eastern European delivery centre. The rotorcraft was signed over to Russian customer Riverhold Assets.

It was also my first time travelling in the Bell 429 and 407 respectively, (and first time to Prague if we’re counting).

The Bell 429, operated by the Slovakian Police (Policajnў Zbor Slovenskej Republiky), was manned by a two-person crew.


The Slovak Government Services crew consists of a pilot and a flight attendant onboard the 429. The latter role is related to the state, government and presidential flights – not forgetting defence journalists too may I add.

Besides the governmental missions, the 429 also conducts police, firefighting and mountain rescue missions.

The Slovak Government Services operates two Bell 429s, the first painted green and white (pictured), whilst the other is completely black and was delivered in December 2015 to the police force.

Last summer, the green and white Bell 429 was delivered to the fleet which also uses Mi-17s.

Eight seats are available on the helicopter, and we managed to fill six. A Wi-Fi connection was available onboard along with USB charging points, supporting the communication needs of the VIPs (as well as us journos merrily tweeting pictures).

The 20-minute flight took off from Tocna Airport and flew over the green fields of the Czech Republic countryside and the Karlštejn Castle.

Flying alongside the 429 was the Bell 407GX, a seven passenger VIP rotorcraft with a Rolls-Royce engine operated by a private customer.

Later, I was able to experience the flight of the Bell 407GX under Stanislav Tarasovic, a Bell Helicopter pilot. The fish eye windows enabled a great panoramic view and enhanced visibility. The two-year old 407 had flown well over 650 hours.

407 to 429 cropped

Also flying simultaneously was the Bell 429 operated by Air Transport Europe which to assist its medical-related missions it has a winch and medical instruments readily available.

As first times go, this is one I won’t forget in a hurry and I’m already looking forward to the next ‘first ride’, in whatever comes along.

I hate to Brexit to you…

Last week, I attended a media day at London Oxford Airport. Located 65km from the capital, on-site helicopters can fly passengers to London in around 22 minutes.

It boasts to be the sixth busiest airport for business aviation within the UK’s mainland totalling 8,000 business aviation passengers per year.

Ninety-five per cent of the airport’s traffic is to EU destinations of which 40% is domestic in accordance with WINGX Advance. Current popular EU destinations include: Paris, Milan and Dublin among others.

One of the interesting topics raised during the day was the possibility of the UK leaving the European Union when the electorate take to the polls on Thursday 23 June.

The EU referendum will allow people to place a cross whether they wish the UK to remain in the European Union or to leave.

The question is: Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?

The Twittersphere and media have coined the withdrawal as Brexit, and the government is of the stance that the UK should remain within the EU.

Interestingly, one of the key seven points being promoted by the government’s ‘Stay-in’ campaign states in relation to aviation that: ‘The EU has made it easier and cheaper for us to travel around Europe. EU reforms in the 1990s resulted in a drop in fares of over 40% for lower cost flights.’

A populist appeal but an issue with real monetary value for the likes of the voting public. However, what is the aviation industry stipulating with regards to the potential effect of leaving the EU?

In general the consensus, though said ever so quietly, is for a wish to remain (if not, please do reply).

Perhaps the reason there is not much volume on Brexit is because there’s a gut feeling it might not happen, provocatively-speaking of course. This is not a call to arms, however, a more evident narrative on the industry’s response to the possibility of Brexit is needed.

It was only last month that Boeing choose London as its new European headquarters.

The reason the disruption of current red tape legislation could interrupt processes and leave a very perplexed industry in only a couple of months.

The sector is still feeling the effects of the reduction in oil price, which surely would be impacted further if the UK left with an anticipated fall in confidence in its currency.

As the government comments: ‘The resulting economic shock would put pressure on the value of the pound, which would risk higher prices for some household goods and damage living standards.’

CAPA, the Centre for Aviation in January this year published a report titled, ‘Brexit up in the air: implications for aviation if the UK votes to leave the European Union.’

One of the report’s headlines was that ‘the EU has a liberalised aviation market’; which is in relation to the low cost travel argument which allows airline operators within member states to function across the Union ‘without restrictions on capacity, frequency, or pricing,’ the report commented.

Membership of the European Common Aviation Area (ECAA) is not something guaranteed to the UK if it does depart from the EU.

The ECAA is a multilateral agreement which ‘creates an open framework accessible for European countries which wish to fully integrate into the European aviation family and to fit into the Neighbourhood Policy of the EU. The objective is to integrate the EU’s neighbours in South-East Europe and the internal aviation market which consists of EU member states as well as Norway and Iceland.’

Moreover, another area looked at by the report is the fact that the UK even if not an EU member state it is still likely to have to comply with EU aviation law. However, it would probably be restricted in its authority over the creation of new legislation and amendments to existing laws.

An interesting point, James Dillon-Godfray, head of business development at London Oxford Airport raised was the notion that the London property market could suffer which would majorly influence London business aviation.

With less than two months to go until polling day, the industry’s stance on remaining or staying needs to be more present; as one of the fundamental industries for jobs and trade, travel and living standards it could dictate the outcome: whether it’s take-off or stationary.

H215’s whistle-stop tour

H215 US Tour 2016

Seamlessly blending in with the minimalist white and blue colour scheme of Airbus Helicopters’ stand at HAI Heli-Expo in Louisville, Kentucky, this year, the H215 on display was having some quiet time (if you disregard the waves of visitors poking and prodding the exterior and perching across the accessible pilot’s seat to see the avionics) before it kicked off its US tour the day after the exhibition.

h215 other

The day before the show was due to end, I received an email from Airbus Helicopters offering me a ride on the type before it was to leave Louisville and fully embark on the trip.

As someone who had never actually been up in a helicopter before, you can probably guess my answer.

After the fun of arriving at the wrong side of Bowman Field – a few kilometres southeast of downtown Louisville – and missing the first scheduled flight, I eventually made it to the correct location, where there was a pristine white H215 waiting to pop my helicopter ride cherry. My new flight time was 2:15pm, somewhat appropriately.

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It appeared Airbus Helicopters was also using the opportunity to demonstrate the capabilities and flight controls to some pilots who had not been up in the type before, as a number waited in the pre-flight ‘green room’.

As 2:15 came, it was time to board. The video below shows a few moments of the 30-minute flight, where you can also hear the pilot’s comms as he provides some tips to the co-pilot on how to properly control the 8.6t machine.

Previously known as the AS332 C/L1e, the type was relaunched in November 2015 as the H215, with the OEM confirming that from 2017 it will be produced in Brasov, Romania.

The utility machine is being pitched at a number of markets and the US tour will see fire-fighting high on the itinerary, as it makes its way to the Aerial Firefighting International event in Sacramento later this month, where the type could be announced as the winner of the 15-helicopter tender put out by the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

After a pretty smooth ride and an Airbus Helicopters goodie-bag on departure, I was ready to leave Louisville and head back to London – unfortunately in a slightly less impressive United Airlines 767 from the 1990s that was, quite literally, falling apart.

Keep an eye out on the RotorHub news stream, where updates on the type and the aforementioned fire-fighting tender will be posted.

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