Innovation: rethinking the drive to improve the future

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Innovation has evolved. From the proverbial approach of developing specific technology solutions for each problem, today’s approach to innovation is about the orchestrated integration of technologies and applications to solve increasingly complex problems.

Developments are progressively surfacing, from HyPoint’s breakthroughs in hydrogen fuel cell technology; to a new, more efficient 1MW turbo-generator from Honeywell for urban air mobility (UAM) applications. These individual developments contribute to the improvement of fuel efficiency and management for commercially viable electric aircraft.

Further illustrating the innovation of today, a consortium led by Nova Systems and OneSky recently concluded unmanned traffic management (UTM) trials aimed to innovatively combine various advanced technologies such as flight authorization, strategic deconfliction, conformance monitoring, real time alerts, constraint management, and remote identification capabilities, creating a robust UTM built to operate in a dense urban environment.

As Asia Pacific’s leading integrated platform for rotorcraft and unmanned systems, Rotorcraft Asia and Unmanned Systems Asia (RCA-UMSA) presents cutting edge innovations in the industry’s fastest growing markets, across a wide spectrum of commercial and defence applications across air, land and sea. The event brings together a whole ecosystem of industry leaders, end users, government bodies, regulators, research institution and start-ups, to foster an exchange of knowledge and synergies to elevate mobility solutions in the region.

“RCA-UMSA has been and will continue to be an effective platform for collaborative discussions on the next generation of mobility solutions,” said Mr Leck Chet Lam, Managing Director of Experia.” Even as economies embark on the recovery process, RCA-UMSA will be a springboard for industry leaders to spark trailblazing conversations, collaborate and innovate once more.”

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Editor’s Comment: Fiction meeting fact – NASA supporting eVTOLs

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I have to admit that I am slightly sceptical about the development of numerous eVTOL projects. Sure, I can’t wait to see the first practical designs in regular service and trust me, I’ll be near the front of the queue when they start to appear at trade shows and are offering media demonstration flights. But it seems barely a month goes by when yet another design is unveiled, and those within the media are flooded with high-end graphics and potential press release blurbs of how this model will trump all others.

But it now appears that I am in the minority, with the recent announcement that NASA has given a grant of US$6 million to a team of engineers led by the University of  California, San Diego. The funding will support computational design tools to help US companies develop more efficient air taxi designs faster.

“This project is part of a growing field called urban air mobility, an exciting vision enabling point-to-point, on-demand air travel within densely populated areas,” said John Hwang, Professor of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at the Jacobs School of Engineering at UC San Diego and principal investigator for the project. “We will combine multidisciplinary computational models of urban air mobility vehicles and advanced design optimisation algorithms to develop methods and tools for rapidly designing safe, quiet and affordable vehicle concepts.”

The three-year project will conclude with a set of open-source simulation and optimisation tools that any company can use to design the best eVTOL aircraft for their need. Included with the paper will be parameters such as passenger numbers, desired cruise speed, and range requirement. These tools will allow engineers to determine the optimal number and shape of rotors, wing shape, structural design, propulsion system sizing, and other design aspects that yield the most cost-efficient vehicle while ensuring it is safe and operates quietly.

“Given a computational model, state-of-the-art design-optimisation algorithms can efficiently search for the optimal values of up to tens of thousands of design parameters that minimise or maximise some specified objective, such as vehicle operating cost,” said Hwang. “We will develop models for all aspects of the aircraft – such as aerodynamics, structures, acoustics, battery, and motor performance – and leverage these optimisation algorithms to navigate the most complex and unintuitive aspects of the eVTOL aircraft design problem.”

With the first examples expected to be operational within the next five years, and a NASA market study report estimating that such services will be profitable by 2030, it all appears to be a very positive outlook for eVTOLs. I honestly hope that I am incorrect in my scepticism and ask any eVTOL manufacturer to get in touch once they have a full-size working example. I’d certainly be interested in going for a spin.

Editor’s Comment: Relentlessly pushing forward

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There’s a slow shift in helicopter technology coming, and it’s fly-by-wire (FBW). Having long been the domain of military aircraft, FBW is being introduced into the civilian helicopter market on Bell’s 525 Relentless. The FBW system places the helicopter under full-time control, maximising safety, reducing the pilot’s workload, increasing pilot situational awareness, and improving aircraft handling qualities.

For Bell, being the first to market with a civilian FBW-equipped helicopter has required speeding up specific software development processes.

As Bell’s largest commercial helicopter, the 16-seat passenger aircraft will be able to carry a crew of oil workers or a few VIPs, 400 miles at 161 mph. These figures may appear impressive, but it’s in the cockpit where FBW is causing the most dramatic change. The helicopter is flown by two small joysticks rather than a cyclic and collective that have dominated helicopter cockpits since their earliest days. The extra room has allowed space for impressively sized touchscreen displays reminiscent of the later commercial airliners.

There are occasions when one aircraft, no matter what the decade it comes from, creates such a significant technological stir that it’s remembered long after it has been retired and perhaps even placed in a museum. Whilst there’s no chance of one of Bell’s 525 Relentless helicopters gathering dust anytime soon, it will be regarded as a gamechanger across the industry in the future.

For a more in-depth look at the Bell 525 Relentless see the February/March issue of RotorHub.

SH09 flies after major retrofit

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The SH09 third prototype (P3) recently took off, at Mollis, Switzerland, following a major modification.  This was part of the planned product development roadmap, towards the final Type Certificate configuration, as presented by Kopter during the 2020 HAI exhibition.

This modification programme was successfully implemented thanks to the joint efforts of the Kopter and Leonardo teams. It includes a new main rotor head design, a new main gear box with an extended mast, and new flight controls configuration. Another significant change is the installation of the state-of-the-art Garmin G3000H integrated flight deck, flown for the first time on a helicopter.

The expected improvement of P3 handling qualities and stability were immediately apparent to the crew; during the first flight it was possible to complete a set of low-speed envelope maneuvers up to 35 kts, including forward, rearward and sideward flights as well as spot turns.

Subsequently, several flights have taken place and the crew has been able to expand the flight envelope to climb, descents, autorotation and turns up to 5000ft.

Richard Grant, Kopter Chief Test pilot commented: “The overall helicopter response to control inputs has been improvedAll maneuvers could be performed accurately with deliberate and precise inputs.”

The Garmin G3000H has performed as expected, thus confirming the importance of anticipating its integration in the P3 configuration to fully develop its potential and benefits in the next generation SH09 helicopter.

Michele Riccobono, Kopter CTO and Head of Flight Operations stated: “The results of these first flights with this new configuration are the evidence of the Kopter engineering capability to accurately predict the helicopter behavior and successfully drive the design towards the required performance improvements”.

The flight test programme is now continuing with the expansion of the weight, speed and altitude envelopes while assessing the new flight deck avionics suite.

Editor’s Comment: Dodging drones is no joke

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Andrew Rene Hernandez is facing up to one year in prison following his actions on 18 September 2020, when his drone struck and damaged a Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) helicopter, which was investigating an incident at a pharmacy not far from his home. Hernandez pleaded guilty, last week, to a sole account of misdemeanour unsafe operation of an unmanned aircraft.

The LAPD Airbus H125 AStar unsuccessfully tried to avoid the drone, but instead suffered damage to its nose, antenna and lower cowling. Following the collision, pieces of the DJI Mavic Pro drone, s/n 08Q3G9KP01W033, fell through the back window of a parked Toyota Corolla. The LAPD located the drone wreckage and used its serial number, onboard video and eyewitnesses to help trace Hernandez.

This is the second incident where a helicopter has collided with a drone over LA, the other occurred in 2019 when a television news helicopter damaged its right horizontal stabiliser when making contact with an airborne drone.

I find it remarkable that only two incidents have occurred, thankfully without the loss of life. In both cases, the helicopter made a rapid precautionary landing.

Here in the UK, the media furore focuses on airliners and their contact with drones. The most significant of which resulted in Gatwick Airport being closed in December 2018, following alleged sightings of drones within the restricted airspace around the airfield. The incident made headlines around the world, although ultimately Sussex police ended up arresting a couple who were later released without charge and received a substantial pay-out in damages over their false arrest.

I am left wondering how many incidents involving helicopters take place and why they receive far less media coverage, perhaps only making the local press, when they do occur. With the increased reliance on helicopters in the fight against COVID-19, it’s been fortunate that no incidents similar to the one in LA have resulted in a loss of life for these dedicated HEMS crews.

But we are not out the woods yet. Due to commercial and financial pressures now faced by retailers, the ‘dawn of the delivery drone’ is almost upon us. Where will this leave the helicopter pilot? It’s always been a complex ballet of push and pull in the cockpit to keep a helicopter in the air. Now, the need to keep a look out for an irresponsibly flown drone, that may only be the size of a small book, has been added to an already busy pilot’s to-do list. Even with the CAA restricting drones to an operating height of 400 feet, there will always be those that will flout this rule. Hopefully, perhaps, having watched how HEMS crews across the UK have toiled against COVID-19 in 2020, and continue to do so, those looking for a remote-controlled thrill will use a bit more of their ‘grey matter’ and operate their drones within the CAA’s rules and save us from dangerous incidents in the future like the one in LA.

Editor’s Comment: From the silver screen to saving lives

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Urban Aeronautics Ltd., a leading Israeli aerospace company, has announced an agreement to provide four CityHawk VTOL aircraft to Hatzolah Air for emergency medical service applications.

“Hatzolah’s pre-order of four air ambulance CityHawks is an amazing show of confidence in our programme and in our company,” said Nimrod Golan-Yanay, CEO of Urban Aeronautics. “We look forward to delivering on our promise to revolutionise urban air mobility and the emergency response capabilities of major cities across the world.”

Hatzolah Air will become Urban Aeronautics’ official sales representative and distributor to EMS organisations worldwide. Both companies earlier signed an MOU to develop, produce, and market the CityHawk aircraft.

What makes this announcement so significant? Just take a look at the CityHawk! It’s like a vehicle straight out of the cult movie Blade Runner.

A lightweight twin-engine VTOL with a unique compact footprint that can be optimised for urban transportation or emergency response. CityHawk will utilise jet propulsion, with cabin space that’s 20%–30% larger and will be much quieter than any helicopter. The aircraft is planned to complete its development and FAA certification for EMS use and be ready for production within three to five years.

Urban Aeronautics’ engineers are now working closely with Hatzolah’s experts to tailor the CityHawk flying ambulance to their specific operational requirements. The crew will consist of a pilot, a patient plus companion, two EMS personnel, and a complete suite of onboard life support equipment.

While it may be up to five years away, the CityHawk may well be the first practical use of a VTOL platform, rather than just fantasy models that are destined only for the super wealthy to play about in!

As a kid, I was told never to look over towards the scene of traffic accident out of respect, and rightly so. But I have to say that when I see my first CityHawk rushing to the scene of an accident I will just take one quick glance at this remarkable piece of aviation technology.

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Editor’s Comment: Do the oil and gas helicopter fleets have a long-term future?

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The announcement by the Danish parliament that it intends to abandon its planned round of tenders for oil exploration and stop all production within the Danish sector of the North Sea by 2050, was a shock to many observers within the industry. Although Denmark intends to provide support to local towns that are heavily dependent on the oil industry, there has been no mention as to what, if any support, will be provided to the helicopter companies that fly to the oil platforms in the region.

Denmark’s Minister of Climate, Energy and Supply, Dan Jørgensen, said: “I am very pleased that we now have a broad agreement on the future of the North Sea, and I would like to thank the parties for their constructive approach to the negotiations. The agreement sets a new, green course for the North Sea, and at the same time strikes a really good balance, and it benefits everyone. We are now putting an end to the fossil era, and drawing a straight line between our activities in the North Sea and the Climate Act’s goal of climate neutrality in 2050.”

The long-term impact that this may have on helicopter operators that support the oil and gas industry is only now being discussed. As the world tries to remove its reliance on fossil fuels, those myriad industries that support the oil and gas companies may well have to look for alternative sources of revenue in the future. While offshore helicopter operations will comfortably continue for at least another decade, operators such as Babcock are confident that nothing drastic will change in the immediate future. This is demonstrated by its preparation of three Airbus H175s for the Danish register, which will operate from Esbjerg. This will be the first time that Babcock has operated from Denmark, and marks the start of a five-year agreement. So, although things may ultimately change in the end, as the world seeks for more environmentally friendly sources of energy, helicopters will in some way be helping this to eventually become a reality.

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Editor’s Comment: Investing in care and concern over ‘the City’

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A new three-year charity partnership has been announced between Aberdeen Standard Investments and London’s Air Ambulance. Having provided support since 2012, the new agreement lasts until 2023 and will continue to provide lifesaving funding to London’s Air Ambulance service, whose trauma team treat critically injured patients on the roadside and provide emergency care to 10 million people living and working London’s greater area.

As the only charity of its kind in London, the Air Ambulance Charity can perform life-saving medical procedures that are normally only possible within a hospital emergency room, at the scene of the accident. The service has treated 14,761 critically injured patients and the partnership has allowed both Aberdeen Standard Investments and London’s Air Ambulance to increase the helicopter fleet to two in 2016.

Claire Drummond, Head of Charitable Giving for Aberdeen Standard Investments, said: “We are really pleased to announce our continued support of London’s Air Ambulance and help the charity to maintain its vital first aid service. With a large workforce based in London, we are proud to be associated with the work they do and are pleased to be delivering a positive impact on the communities in which we operate. London is incredibly fortunate to be home to this world-class medical charity and it deserves as much support as it can get.”

 Jonathan Jenkins, CEO of London’s Air Ambulance Charity, said: “At this challenging time, we are especially delighted to hear our valued long-term partner, Aberdeen Standard Investments, has extended its partnership with the charity up to 2023. Since 2012 this partnership has enabled London’s Air Ambulance to attend critically injured patients across the capital. We look forward to continuing this vital partnership with the London team over at Aberdeen Standard Investments and engaging staff with some exciting events and volunteering.”

With many investment companies seeking to reduce their costs at such a time of economic stress, it gives one a warm glow inside that behind those cold, faceless glass office blocks that populate ‘the City’ in London, those working inside have a heart of gold by investing in people that they may well never meet, but in some way, just might help save their life if the worst should happen.

Mince pie in the sky…tastes so much better!

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VIP helicopter charter company, Apollo Air Services has introduced mince pies to its flights this Christmas after research suggests that it could be one of the best in-flight snacks due to its spicy and intense flavours. It is suggested that once in the air, salt is 20%-30% less intense and sugar 15%-20% less due to high altitudes. However, fruity aromas, acids as well as spicy and intense flavours are far more stable with Apollo finding the optimum altitude to enjoy the UK’s much loved treat is 3,800 feet for the best tasting mince piece.

To celebrate the mighty mince pie, Apollo Air Services has launched a “Mince Pie In The Sky” flight package for those wanting to beat the Christmas traffic and get home (or to a chosen festive location) in style and safety. The package is customisable to the passenger’s chosen take off and drop off locations, and involves a number of yuletide additions including a Christmas hamper filled with mince pies and mulled wine, decorations in the cabin and (optional) Christmas songs on the sound system, for a fun and festive flight to get into the Christmas spirit, whilst soaring over the holiday traffic.

Those wanting to treat their loved ones can purchase a gift voucher for the “Mince Pie In the Sky” experience, a 30-minute festive flight over a chosen location, complete with mince pies and mulled wine onboard.

Steve Graham, Apollo Air Services, “Mince Pies are firm favourite over the Christmas season and we thought it would be great fun to find out the altitude where they taste the best and celebrate the greatly loved pie this festive season. Mince pies aside, we are able to offer our clients a safe and reliable way to travel to their loved ones this holiday season. This year, more than ever, it is important to make the most of time spent with family and friends, as well making sure you are keeping yourself and loved ones safe. By adding some Christmas touches to our aircraft like a hamper, decorations and Christmas music, we hope to bring a bit of fun and Christmas cheer to our passengers after what has been a difficult year for many.”

Editor’s Comment: You can’t keep a good thing down

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In late September, Airbus delivered its 1,400th H135 to the French operator Mont Blanc, adding to a fleet of more than 20 H135 and H145 helicopters currently in service with the operator to provide HEMS in France. The milestone capped off a 20-plus-year history for the programme and cements the H135 as a leader in the HEMS industry, currently holding 25% of the global market share for HEMS and boasting over 650 units in service.

“As the benchmark for HEMS helicopters, the H135 is the safest, most reliable and most economic platform – arriving at the scene on time… every time,” explained Martin Schneider, Airbus Helicopters’ Head of the H135 programme. “There are more than 650 H135s in emergency medical service duties, operated by thousands of pilots and medics who protect and save lives each day.”

Since first entering into service in 1996, the H135 family of helicopters has gone through regular improvements in performance and capabilities. To respond to the unique needs of HEMS operators, the H135 programme has taken an active role by conducting conferences, interviews, questionnaires, and surveys, as well as using Reliability Data Group customer input and reliability figures.

Recent global events have demonstrated the need for reliable, adaptable and cost-efficient operating helicopters and it’s clear that Airbus has produced a winner. The latest H135 version has an increased maximum take-off weight of 90 kg and a useful load increase of up to 225 kg, allowing HEMS operators to explore new possibilities for the care provided during transit.

Feedback from medics and pilots is that the H135 is one of the easiest helicopters to operate, particularly in confined spaces where many HEMS aircrews find themselves. A landing site may be next to a major road or a playing field in the suburbs. Either way, the H135 looks set to continue to answer the call for many years to come.