Editor’s Comment: A duty-bound service

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The announcement that Bristow’s contract to provide SAR services for the UK has been extended to 2026 was greeted with little surprise. Let’s face it, the company has been doing an outstanding job. Having flown more than 60,000 SAR operational hours in the UK and conducted more than 15,000 SAR sorties, during which more than 7,000 people have been rescued. With such a record, its obvious that the UK is in safe hands but also begs the question of where crews for the cockpit and rear cabin will be found. Currently, many come from former military units and although the pool shows no signs of drying up, there surely is the need for those from civilian backgrounds to be given the opportunity to join the SAR force.

It was a question raised following a recent interview that I conducted with a leading helicopter training firm. With the UK’s future SAR contract now being discussed within the industry, the need for training crews has been factored into the requirements. Often, it is the duty SAR aircraft and aircrew that are ‘borrowed’ to instruct new pilots and rear crew around alerts. It has never been an ideal situation and can at times delay trainees becoming qualified quickly. It is a dilemma that all global civilian SAR organisations currently face. There needs to be a solution and it looks as though the creation of civilian-owned-and-run SAR training schools might be the way to go. Staffed by ex-military-trained SAR operators along with those from the civilian world may offer the best solution for the future?

The benefits are there, it’s just a case of those with the business foresight to take the leap now. Fortunately, a few organisations have, and are setting procedures and facilities in place to train future SAR pilots and technicians, whether from a civilian or military background.

The big benefit? If ever you are a lost at sea, you’ll know that when that helicopter comes into sight, it will likely be the duty aircraft and crew that’s solely dedicated to ensuring your survival.

Editor’s Comment: What price do you put on a life?

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Rescue helicopters are expensive, there’s no way of getting away from it. From their initial purchase and their cost per flight hour, to the investment made in the highly skilled crews needed to operate them. This doesn’t get cheaper no matter what generation of helicopter comes on to the market. Sure, maintenance costs might be reduced over a period of time, but ‘choppers’ are pricey and vital. With many rescue platforms relying on donations or sponsorship it’s been inevitable this year that due to the global COVID-19 crisis, budgets have been slashed in order for governments to maintain some stability of their shrinking resources.

A typical example of the crises facing rescue helicopters is demonstrated by California’s Sonoma County Sheriff’s helicopter rescue unit. Having saved two firefighters who had become trapped on a ridge in a forest fire on 28 August, just days later it’s been revealed that the Sonoma County Sheriff’s helicopter programme, which conducts nearly 900 missions per year, is at the risk of being eliminated due to budget shortfalls.

The programme is known as Henry One. With his department losing US$14 million due to major budget cuts, Sheriff Mark Essick says the rescue chopper programme could be a victim of that financial shortfall.

“Henry One is about a $2.2 million project that we spend every year, and it certainly is a project that we are looking at very carefully, closely,” said Sheriff Essick. “And certainly, it is at risk at this point.” Budget cuts or not, the remarkable programme has saved lives all across Sonoma County’s 1,600 square miles.

Henry One has assisted in police pursuits and rescued hundreds of people all along the miles of rugged Sonoma coastline, pulling individuals from remote beaches, cliffs, mountain tops and other difficult areas that only a trained crew and helicopter can reach.

The Sheriff’s Office hopes that funding for the life-saving programme can be found as the county faces budget shortages compounded by the financial challenges presented by the coronavirus pandemic.

“My hope is that our community will really see the value of the helicopter. It is a costly programme, yes, but it absolutely saves lives every day,” said Sheriff Essick.

CAE expands instructor-led online courses

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CAE has announced the expansion of its live online instructor-led maintenance training program, now available for Bombardier, Dassault, Gulfstream aircraft types and specific helicopter programs. The courses offer real-time teaching in a virtual classroom setting where trainees can interact with a course instructor and peers.
“We are thrilled to expand our virtual classrooms to support business jet operators at a time when it is needed most. Maintenance technicians are now able to take advantage of high-quality instructor-led training online, keeping them healthy and their operations flying safely,” said Nick Leontidis, CAE’s Group President, Civil Aviation Training Solutions. “Throughout the pandemic, we have strived to find new ways of delivering essential training, and this forward-thinking approach is a prime example of how we are supporting our customers during unprecedented times.”
Introduced for helicopter platforms in 2016, CAE now offers online instructor-led maintenance training courses to more than 15 operators and 200 individuals. Maintenance technicians can study anytime and anywhere with internet connection.
“Flexible schedules and online training solutions especially at a time when we need it the most are ideal and beneficial for our maintenance technicians,” said Brad Meineke, Engineering Manager P.T. Hevilift Aviation Indonesia. “CAE’s virtual instructor-led comprehensive courses offer the latest curriculum by ensuring safety for our maintenance technicians”.
“CAE’s online courses have allowed CHC the ability to maintain compliance to our regulatory and scheduling requirements for maintenance training despite the travel restrictions during these unprecedented times,” said Fiona Lowndes, Global Engineer Training Manager, CHC Helicopter. “This online instructor-led training program allows individuals country wide to attend a single session, enables team engagement and is particularly beneficial for the team at CHC considering Australia’s size and our remote bases of operation”.
CAE’s online instructor-led courses are designed to offer maximum flexibility for maintenance training, including interactive demonstrations, and courseware compliance to all regulatory and scheduling guidelines. The Webex-based platform gives the unique opportunity for maintenance technicians to arrange their learning process according to their needs and is regularly refreshed with up to date content.

Editor’s Comment: “Skids are for kids”

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The title of this comment was taken from a patch I once saw on the shoulder of an Army Air Corps pilot which, at the time, related to the introduction of the Lynx AH.9 into British Army service. The new variant replaced the skids of the older generation Lynx AH.7 with a wheeled tricycle undercarriage as part of the upgraded. Although a tongue-in-cheek dig at the older generation aircrews still flying the earlier model, it once again opened up the debate of whether the choice of skids or wheels on a helicopter is better.

While many operators within the commercial market choose a wheeled undercarriage, simply for ease of handling on the ground, there’s still a market for skids as recently demonstrated by Leonardo’s test flights of an AW169. The prototype, known as AC4, is also fitted with composite inward-canting stabiliser endplates. Other changes to the airframe are the deletion of the sponsons, which housed the main undercarriage, so bringing an overall weight saving of around 100 kg, which can be converted into payload.

The reasons for developing such a variant may simply be due to where the AW169 fits within the global marketplace. It also allows Leonardo the option of taking on the likes of Airbus Helicopters with its H145 within specific industry markets where previously the wheeled-AW169 would not have been suitable or even considered. On the other hand, it’s also a demonstration of Leonardo’s enterprising ability to get the most from all of the models within its extensive helicopter portfolio – long may it continue.

Editor’s Comment: Rotors and Robocop?

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The announcement that HM Coastguard is conducting operations using an unmanned Bristow Schiebel CAMCOPTER S-100 nicknamed ‘baby shark’ as safety overwatch, to support SAR missions, is very much along the lines of what UAVs have been doing for years within the military but in a much more aggressive stance.

Whether saving or protecting people on the ground, the integration of joint operations between helicopters and UAVs is occurring at a considerable rate, and one where it appears that both civil and military applications are developing at the same time, rather than the familiar military technology filtering down to the civilian market after a few years.

While it’s obvious that SAR is the natural choice for a UAV with long-duration flight time and with a far-reduced cost-per-flying hour compared to that of a helicopter. It also leads the way as to where this partnership will develop into other commercial operations. But, unlike the military, the commercial market will again need to adapt its thinking in particular helicopter operators. No doubt, there will be questions. What can a UAV bring to our operation? Will I need an extra crew member to operate it, as the senior pilot will be unable to?

This new addition or capability to the world of rotary operations arrives straight off the back of the early months of looking at how to integrate hybrid-electric VTOLs, which is likely to take significant strides next year. For the first time, operators may well find themselves overloaded with options for vertical flight. While some may take a few years to develop, the skies are going to get very, very crowded over the next decade. It will for many, be a case of selecting the best tool for the job. Fortunately, it appears that all this next technology coming along will serve, enhance and support helicopter operations.

Editor’s Comment: If Airbus makes it look good, it generally is…

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The announcement by Airbus Corporate Helicopters (ACH) that is has received a further order for its new ACH160, just days after the H160 achieved certification by the EASA, demonstrates that ACH certainly knows its market.

This new order has been placed by an Italian operator for use on private and corporate flights in the domestic market. So far this means eight countries across North America, Latin America, Europe, China, and South-East Asia have ordered the ACH160.

The ACH160 is the premium version of the new H160 helicopter, which was certified by EASA on 1 July, and will be ready for delivery to private and business customers later this year. With its stylish interior including bespoke options, the ACH160 offers a smooth and quiet ride due to the Helionix advanced digital avionics system which ensures carefree handling for the pilot.

Frederic Lemos, Head of ACH, said: “This new order from a highly knowledgeable ACH customer is yet more evidence of the strong welcome being received by the ACH160 in this demanding sector, even at a notably challenging time for the helicopter market.”

From the interest shown in the H160, Airbus are on to a winner, and this is even before the type expands its applications into the parapublic market. But no matter whether it’s a corporate bespoke interior with leather seats and champagne glass holders, or a more work like cabin with the potential to be equipped with SAR equipment, the H160 is simply a stunning looking helicopter that justifies the age old saying: “If it looks right, it flies right.”

Editor’s Comment: Getting hot and nasty at night

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As the summer season heats up in the Northern Hemisphere, the threat of forest fires reaches fever pitch. Countless helicopter operators are on standby across Europe and North America, but fighting fires from the air is never going to be easy.

Procedures, platforms and equipment have made the job slightly less dangerous, but there was always a capability that remained elusive to these rotary firebombers – being able to continue operations into the night.

Having spoken with a number of firebomber crews over the years, they believed that downing tools due to the inability to operate at night often saw fires reignite and spread back to a previously extinguished area. But the risks involved were too great, and the technology simply wasn’t available.

Finally, it seems that things are changing with Talon Helicopters, an operator based out of British Columbia has gained Transport Canada approval for night attack fire missions. Its night vision goggle-equipped Airbus AS365 N2 Dauphin has a Simplex Model 301 belly tank that can hold 901 litres of water.

Peter Murray, President of Talon Helicopters, stated that the use of NVGs and other safety procedures means, “we don’t now have a grounding time.”

For Talon, the whole certification procedure involving NVGs has taken a number of years but the Transport Canada approval for NVG operations includes flying passengers at night as well.

With certification for one operator approved in Canada, a similar capability for night firefighting has been in place with Kestrel Aviation in Australia for months. Its Bell 412s regularly support the Country Fire Authority in Victoria.

Surely now it’s time for operators across Europe to seek this capability. It demands and requires expert training, but for those pilots who already fly helicopters into a high-threat hot area, it’s simply another extraordinary capability they can bring to the fight.

RotorHub appointed official Show Daily partner for new EUROPEAN ROTORS event

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RotorHub, the leading international media title dedicated to the civil and parapublic rotorcraft industry, has been selected as the official Show Daily media partner for the new EUROPEAN ROTORS event being held in Cologne, Germany, 10-12 November 2020.
Organised by the European Helicopter Association (EHA) in cooperation with the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), EUROPEAN ROTORS will create a unique exhibition and conference where all stakeholders (including OEMs, suppliers and operators) from across the rotorcraft community gather to do business and share knowledge in a comprehensive training and event programme.
“RotorHub is delighted to be appointed the official Show Daily media partner for EUROPEAN ROTORS,” commented publisher of RotorHub, Mark Howells. “European Rotors is set to be the premier event for the European rotorcraft industry hosted by two major organisations (EHA and EASA) that work tirelessly in representing the interests of the rotorcraft community. This is an exciting addition to the rotorcraft event calendar and RotorHub looks forward to supporting the EUROPEAN ROTORS team in making the inaugural show a great success.”
As part of the agreement, RotorHub will publish a Show Daily publication across all three days of the event. The Show Daily will be distributed to all attendees, exhibitors and sponsors and will follow key announcements from the show, as well as include interviews with senior industry figures. Coverage will also be extended across RotorHub’s dedicated website and social media channels.
EUROPEAN ROTORS show director, Dr. Frank Liemandt said: “We are really excited about this strong partnership. RotorHub publishes the exclusive official newspapers of both print and digital channels at Europe’s biggest VTOL show and safety conference with a dedicated editorial team onsite. The Dailies are an indispensable guide to what’s happening at the show, offering up-to-the-minute news and exhibitor introductions. With hundreds of them competing for awareness, the Show Daily captures attention for brands and events, guiding visitors directly to them, already prepared with the information they need”.
About RotorHub:
RotorHub is the only international media portfolio dedicated to the civil and parapublic rotorcraft industry. The media title provides extensive coverage of the market across a wide range of print and digital channels. RotorHub has tracked market trends and the latest industry developments for all non-military helicopter manufacturers and support services for 35 years. For further information, please visit www.rotorhub.com.
About EUROPEAN ROTORS:
EUROPEAN ROTORS will be the unique leading platform offering the industry an exhibition where all stakeholders (including OEMs, suppliers and operators) gather to do business and share knowledge in a comprehensive training and conference programme. EUROPEAN ROTORS will empower the rotorcraft community to meet the challenges of the future and it will highlight the contribution helicopters make to the European community. Messe Friedrichshafen, the organiser of the well-known general aviation show AERO Friedrichshafen, is the service provider for the new show. For further information, please visit www.europeanrotors.eu.

Editor’s Comment: Out of sight, but certainly not out of mind in Russia

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While much of the world’s attention relating to the COVID-19 pandemic has been focused on nations in Europe such as Italy, Spain and the UK, for Russia the situation has been just as challenging, and its helicopters and crews have not remained on the pad in their desire to help.

Russian Helicopters’ holding company Rostec has obtained approval from the Federal Air Transport Agency (Rosaviatsiya) for installing isolation units in Ansat helicopters in order to transport COVID-19 patients. In a similar process to that adopted by Airbus Helicopters and Leonardo, modules will be installed on the Ansat medical variants.

“About 30 Ansat helicopters have been supplied to a number of regions for air medical services. To improve their performance during the pandemic, we have launched a certification process and obtained permits for installing isolation units for transporting patients. This does not require any modification to the helicopter. Such equipment will provide more opportunities to use an aircraft for medical purposes,” said Executive Director of Rostec Oleg Yevtushenko.

The helicopters are used in the Moscow, Nizhny Novgorod, Kirov, Kostroma and the Tver regions along with many others including the Astrakhan region, in the Republic of Tatarstan.

“All work necessary for obtaining approval from Russian aviation authorities has been carried out extremely quickly. The Ansat medical helicopter was primarily equipped with a cabin for patients with infectious diseases. With these modifications, it will be possible to use these aircraft for combating COVID-19, and transport patients who could have highly dangerous infections and viruses,” stated Director General of Russian Helicopters Andrey Boginsky.

While they may not be getting as much media coverage in the West as they should be, it’s clear that Russia’s HEMS crews are just as involved in the challenging and demanding battle against the spread of the pandemic as their counterparts around the world.

BladeSense launches rotor blade protection project

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Airbus Helicopters in the UK is exploring future activities to follow on from a four-year research project that has shown strong potential for advancing the state-of-the-art in measuring deformation of helicopter rotor blades.

The BladeSense project, a £2 million programme supported with a £1 million grant from Innovate UK, via the Aerospace Technology Institute (ATI), examined the use of novel optical fibre sensors, measuring strain and shape, to monitor blade behaviour in real-time.

It holds out the prospect of substantially saving on lifecycle costs through continuous in-flight data collection. This will not only open up new pathways for rotor blade performance monitoring, but also provide blade usage data that is currently impossible to obtain in operational environments.

In the course of the project, the rotor blades of an Airbus H135 helicopter were fitted with fibre optic instrumentation. Data was successfully transferred to a remote ground station through a Wi-Fi link from specially designed instrumentation mounted on top of the rotor hub, during some four hours of ground running with the five main rotors operating at up to 400rpm.

The research was a collaboration between Airbus Helicopters UK, the Dynamics, Simulation and Control group and The Centre for Engineering Photonics at Cranfield University. Simone Weber, Technology Integration Manager at Airbus Helicopters in the UK was embedded at Cranfield University. Helitune of Torrington, UK provided the on-board vehicle monitoring unit, and fluid engineering specialists BHR Group (UK) of Cranfield supplied the mathematical model predicting the mechanical loads.

Future test scenarios under examination envisage flight-testing of the system and investigation of the exploitation of the concept in the helicopter design phase.

Head of Design and Customisation at Airbus Helicopters in the UK, Richard Atack, said: “We’ve made real progress in an advanced field of work with the potential to bring important benefits in terms of performance monitoring and environmental impact. And we’ve done that by capitalising on people, skills and technical know-how right here in the UK at Airbus and with our partners. Now we are very interested to see what we can do next to advance our capabilities even further.”

Professor Ralph Tatam, Head of the Centre for Engineering Photonics at Cranfield University said: “This was a fantastic team effort from all the partners to demonstrate that the novel interferometric fibre optic shape measurement, pioneered at Cranfield, works in this challenging environment. This opens the way for this technology to be applied across a range of sectors including aerospace, energy, transport and healthcare.”