Finmeccanica Acquires GKN’s AgustaWestland Stake
GKN has divested itself of its 50-percent share of AgustaWestland, selling out to Italy’s Finmeccanica. The agreement would make AgustaWestland a wholly owned subsidiary of Finmeccanica by year’s end and could be worth $1.9 billion (Eurowatch, pg 57).
Finmeccanica’s 50-percent stake in AgustaWestland is a result of a merger begun five years ago and finalized in February 2001.
GKN acquired Westland Helicopters in 1994, mainly in response to nationalist pressure to keep Westland British. Sikorsky had been a major Westland shareholder and the two companies had collaborated on the Sea King helicopter.
Sikorsky thus was a logical partner for Westland when the company encountered financial difficulties in the 1990s. However, British nationalist sentiment kept this from happening. Hence, GKN’s acquisition of Westland. Some reports had GKN more interested in acquiring Boeing’s commercial aircraft facilities in Wichita, Kan. because those facilities would presumably continue making components for Boeing jets. By these accounts, the AgustaWestland sale would generate cash for that acquisition. But GKN chief executive Kevin Smith in late May ruled out that company’s bidding for the Wichita facilities. The cash portion of the agreement with Finmeccanica is premised on AgustaWestland winning an award from the U.K. Ministry of Defence for the Future Lynx contract to re-equip the British Army and Royal Navy with a fleet of remanufactured Lynx helicopters, according to Finmeccanica. If AgustaWestland does not win, the value of the deal falls by $64.7 million.
Westland manufactures the Lynx helicopters and produces the WAH-64 Apache under license from Boeing. Agusta’s product line includes the A119 Koala, A109 Power and A129 Mangusta. AgustaWestland manufactures the EH-101.
Coast Guard Gets Procedures Trainer
The U.S. Coast Guard has begun training on a newly acquired Aero Simulation, Inc. Reconfigurable Cockpit Procedures Trainer that can be configured either into the HH-60J or HH-65B cockpit. The trainer was delivered to the Coast Guard’s Aviation Training Center in Mobile, Ala. early this year and certified for training during the second quarter. It is certified to be used for initial, re-qualification or recurrent training. The trainer uses digital photography software imagery developed from the Coast Guard’s full-motion simulators to provide the highest fidelity visuals, according to Paul Olsheski, program manager. Graphics include nine LCD touchscreens to display photo-realistic instruments. These are mounted in a structure designed to position the screens identical to the actual aircraft, to include main instrument panel, overhead console and center console. The screens use Surface Acoustic Wave technology for reliability and sensitivity to touch. Time to reconfigure the trainer from one aircraft type to the other is about 2 min. Cost of the trainer is around $700,000. A full graphic representation of the MH-68A Stingray (Agusta 109) could be developed in about six months if requested by the Coast Guard, he said. The trainer was developed and manufactured at Aero Simulation’s Tampa, Fla. facility.
Senate Stymies U.S. Army’s Plans
The Senate Armed Services Committee has serious doubts about the U.S. Army’s decision to procure a new light utility helicopter and thus is recommending that money be withheld from this procurement until additional explanatory information is forthcoming.
The Army is asking for $45 million in Fiscal 2005 to jumpstart its procurement of the helicopter. However, before authorizing these funds, the committee wants a comprehensive report from the Army justifying “the rationale for the procurement of the light utility helicopter.”
The report also must show Congress that all required documentation for this procurement has been completed and approved. The report would be due March 1, 2005, but is not yet mandatory. That’s because the authorization bill passed by the House Armed Services Committee has no such report requirement.
The House and Senate are expected to reconcile their differences this fall. The Senate report requirement may or may not make it into the final, reconciled bill.
Nonetheless, the Senate’s proposed strictures are a win for Sikorsky and its congressional lobbyists, because they promise to stop the Army from pushing ahead quickly with aviation modernization. Indeed, the Senate “directs the Army to specifically consider an alternative that would substitute for the [light utility helicopter] some combination of new light armed reconnaissance helicopters and UH-60 utility helicopters in National Guard aviation expeditionary regiments.”
The Senate also wants the Army to explain its decision to convert just 501 Apaches to Block III configured aircraft, asking for the cost of converting all Apaches to Block III aircraft. Finally, Senate authorizers want the Army to justify its procurement of a new fixed-wing cargo aircraft and joint multi-role helicopter.
New Brazilian Helicopter Group Launched
The Sao Paulo Helicopter Pilots Assn. is launching a new group to represents helicopter pilots throughout Brazil, it was announced at the association’s third International Helicopter Flight Safety Seminar, held May 11-12 in Sao Paolo.
The goal of the Brazilian Helicopter Pilots Assn (in Portugese, Associação Brasileira de Pilotos de Helicoptero, or ABRAPHE), is to gather helicopter pilots from the whole country and also intends to serve as a forum for representatives from other related areas, such as operators, owners, services, government agencies, and academia.
The national group is to have seven regional offices established according to the seven SERAC’s, or regional civil aviation services offices and their geographical divisions that include all of Brazil’s 26 states and its capital, Brasilia. This organization is intended to facilitate all interactions between country’s government air authorities and the association.
One of the group’s first objectives is the creation of specific committees to address the most pressing issues in the country’s helicopter environment. The group expects this will help to unite the regional areas and their helicopter communities.
The exchange of information, experiences, regulations and solutions with other equivalent Latin American associations is planned to start by 2005.
The two-day seminar held by the Sao Paolo association (known by the Portugese acronym APHESP, for Associação de Pilotos de Helicopteros do Estado de Sao Paulo) presented various panels with international and local helicopter experts discussing and debating themes related with flight safety. More than 350 people attended.
At the first day, a special panel "Pilots, Helicopters & Markets: Forecast For the Next Years," showed a general view from the world, U.S. and Latin America markets and detailed views and information about Brazil’s market and trends. The panel was prepared and presented by this correspondent for Rotor & Wing Latin America Bureau. —Claudio Agostini
Erickson Lets Contract for Air-Crane Main Blades
Erickson Air-Crane has picked Ducommun Inc. to fabricate main-rotor blades for the S-64 Air-Crane helicopter at its Ducommun AeroStructures in Gardena and Monrovia, California. Deliveries of sets of six 32-ft.-long main rotor blades per helicopter are to begin in the fourth quarter. Duocomm said the contract is worth $5 million.
The blades have been out of production since the 1970s. The new blades are to incorporate updated processes and materials while maintaining the original design. The availability of new blades will allow Erickson to continue to supply blades to its current fleet and support Erickson’s current manufacturing effort, which is adding approximately four aircraft per year for Erickson’s own operational fleet and sales to outside customers.
Ducommun AeroStructures has built more than 100,000 rotor blades in the last 40 years and is currently producing the Boeing AH-64 Apache rotor blades and the Carson Helicopter S-61 composite main rotor blade, according to the company. It has also previously manufactured rotor blades for Bell Helicopter’s Model 47, UH-1 Huey, and Model 206 JetRanger Aircraft.
Pentagon Seeking to Save NASA Wind Tunnels
The Pentagon has commissioned two outside studies to assess how it might reopen wind tunnels formerly used for full-scale rotorcraft testing. The wind tunnels were closed in May 2003 by NASA and have remained inoperable ever since.
NASA Ames has three wind tunnels: 12 ft., 40×80 ft., and 80×120 ft. All three facilities are essential to the development of more advanced rotorcraft like the joint heavy-lift aircraft, which is now being pushed by the Pentagon, said Rhett Flater, president of the American Helicopter Society.
NASA closed down these facilities for budgetary reasons. The decision has drawn the ire of Army rotorcraft officials. NASA’s decision was unilateral, they said, and reneges on a long-standing agreement that dates back to 1969. But according to NASA, use of these facilities has declined dramatically in recent years.
“The implementation of ‘full cost recovery’ accounting has raised the burden of using the facilities without sufficient warning, which has severely driven demand down,” Michael W. Wynne told Congress.
Wynne serves as under-secretary of defense for acquisition, technology, and logistics. He has commissioned the Pentagon’s Operational Test and Evaluation office to study what might be done to reopen the wind tunnels. A similar Congressionally mandated study is being conducted by the RAND Corporation.
The Pentagon is considering taking over operational control of the wind tunnels. However, Wynn, noted, “funding would be an issue.”
“The Army is taking the lead in assessing the cost and management implications of DoD management of the facility. I hope to bring this to a successful resolution by the end of the fiscal year,” he said.
House Panel Backs Rotorcraft Center
The House Armed Services Committee has authorized the Army to spend $5 million to establish a center for rotorcraft innovation and $10 million to reopen the NASA Ames wind tunnels.
The $15-million authorization was pushed by Rep. Curt Weldon (R-Penn.), chairman of the Tactical Air and Land Forces subcommittee. Weldon, a long-time champion of military rotorcraft, recently secured an industry agreement to establish such a center. (See “Innovation Center Sought,” May 2004, page 18.)
The panel is concerned that “continued shortcomings in national policy planning for rotorcraft research and production is resulting in the inability of the United States to effectively produce competitive world class rotorcraft products,” according to its annual Fiscal 2005 authorization report. “This is evident by key decision-makers within federal, state, and local governments, as well as private sector users, selecting foreign products to meet their rotorcraft needs.”
According to Joseph H. Bogosian, assistant secretary for Transportation and Machinery at the U.S. Commerce Dept., Eurocopter boasts that it “captured 45 percent of the new civil and military helicopters ordered globally in 2003.”
By contrast, Bell, Boeing and Sikorsky captured 14 , 10 and three percent, respectively, Bogosian told Weldon’s subcommittee. “Eurocopter also claims to hold a 48-percent share of the U.S. civil helicopter market, which includes civil defense procurements,” Bogosian said.
Boeing Tests Advanced Technologies
Boeing has completed initial testing of two new advanced rotor systems that significantly improve aircraft performance. The Smart Material Actuated Rotor Technology (SMART) was tested on an MD 900 Explorer rotor system, but could be used on other rotorcraft. The new technology employs an active flap rotor system to reduce vibration noise and improve aerodynamic performance. Indeed, whirl tower tests on a modified, five-bladed, bearingless MD900 rotor showed that the system can provide a jet-smooth ride, with up to 80-percent vibration reduction, Boeing officials said. Wind tunnel and flight-testing have yet to commence; but once completed, SMART technology could be incorporated into helicopters and UAVs within five years’ time, they added.
New composite blades have been designed for and flight tested on the AH-64D Apache Longbow under the Affordable Apache Rotor Program, a joint development project between Boeing and the U.S. government.
The new Apache composite blades offer a 25-percent reduction in acquisition costs and a 50-percent reduction in operation and support costs vis-à-vis the aircraft’s current metallic blades, according to Syd Austin, Boeing’s Apache blade program manager.
The new composite blades also average 4,000-hr. mean time between removal versus 1,200-2,000 hr. mean time between removal for the metallic blades, he said.
Other performance improvements include: an additional 6.5 kt. in forward air speed, a 2,000 ft. increase in the aircraft’s service ceiling, and 400 lb. more useful load, hover out of ground effect, in a hot and high environment (4,000 ft. density altitude, 95 deg.). The new composite blades are to be retrofitted onto the Apache beginning in October 2007 as part of the aircraft’s Block III upgrade, Austin said.
First MH-47G Delivered to Special Ops
The U.S. Army’s Special Operations Command has taken delivery of its first MH-47G Chinook. A minimum of 37 MH-47G model aircraft are currently planned, although under the Army’s Cargo Helicopter Modernization Program, Boeing is to deliver a total of 58 –47G models by 2011. The first delivery aircraft is one of three being modernized from earlier model Chinooks to replace MH-47E models lost in action. An additional 34 –47G modes are to be modernized from the Special Operations Command’s current fleet of 23 MH-47Es and 11 H-47Ds. The G model will have upgraded engines and avionics, as well as a fully integrated digital Common Avionics Architecture System to allow its aviators to integrate global communications, navigation, survivability and situational awareness capabilities, Boeing said.
Delaware Police Add New 407
The Delaware State Police has auctioned off a Bell 206-L4, replacing it with a new Bell 407, giving them a total fleet of four 407s. The 206 was auctioned off last month through the State’s Division of Purchasing’s property disposal office under a sealed bid process. The new 407 is currently in the modification process at Bell and expected to be delivered to the state police later this month. The four aircraft are split between two bases in the state, Middletown in the north of the state and Georgetown in southern Delaware.
New Jersey Police Asking For New Aircraft
The New Jersey State Police would like to add three new Bell Jet Rangers to its aviation fleet, according to testimony presented by the State Police Superintendent. Col. Joseph Fuentes told the State Senate Homeland Security and State Preparedness Committee that the helicopters are needed for law enforcement as well as to respond to be part of a homeland security plan currently being developed. The three aircraft would cost an estimated $1.2 million each and paid for through a surcharge of up to $5 on each automobile annual registration fee, similar to the program used by the State of Maryland to pay for its State Police Aviation Division. The New Jersey State Police already have three helicopters based at Mercer County Airport near Trenton, although those aircraft are between 17 and 19 years old, a police spokesman said.
The state is also considering purchasing a used S-76 to add to its current fleet of four S-76B helicopters used for air ambulance service. The S-76s currently aid in law enforcement when not being used as med-evac aircraft.
Pilot Error in Papillion Crash—NTSB
The 2001 crash of a Papillion helicopter in the Grand Canyon was caused by pilot error, according to the just released report by the National Transportation Safety Board. However, Papillion CEO Brenda Halverson stated that while the company had been working with the NTSB investigators, its conclusions “are not consistent” with those of the safety board’s. Halverson said that the company “is in the process of reviewing the report and will request addition meetings with the NTSB for further clarification and discussion of their findings.” In discussing the safety training for Papillion pilots, Halverson noted that Papillion founded the Tour Operators Program for Safety, a safety certification program for helicopter tour companies, to include management, pilots, maintenance, ground support personnel and aircraft.
The safety board’s report stated that the accident was caused when the pilot descended too fast and too close to a scenic cliff in the canyon.
DEA Explorer in Service
The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration has put its first MD Helicopter MD900 Explorer into service in Hawaii. The aircraft will be used in a wide range of law enforcement activities, from marijuana eradication to surveillance, according to the DEA. The agency took delivery of the twin-engine NOTAR helicopter last January. Under a contract with MD Helicopters, DEA has the option to purchase 50 additional MD900s over the next five years, although there has been no commitment to date beyond the first aircraft. According to the DEA, it evaluates its fleet needs “on a continuous basis” and will order the additional aircraft on an as-needed basis.
Turkey to Restart Attack Helo Procurement
The Turkish government has canceled its attack helicopter procurement and announced that it will initiate a new tender open to all strike rotorcraft.
The move is a blow to Bell Helicopter Textron, whose AH-1Z King Cobra bested four helicopters four years ago. However, Bell never was able to finalize the deal. Turkey was set to spend $1.5 billion for 50 King Cobras, with an option for 95 additional AH-1Zs.
According to the Turkish undersecretariat for defense industries, the sale collapsed because of escalating project costs and inadequate domestic technological benefits. Turkey, like most countries that procure military aircraft, views defense procurement as a way to develop its industrial base.
“It has been decided to meet the needs of the Turkish armed forces with new models based on domestic production and original designs, and by making maximum use of national resources,” said the Defense Procurement Executive Committee in a statement.
Turkey also is seeking entry into the European Union and, according to some observers, may be trying to use its attack helicopter procurement to curry favor with the Europeans by exercising fiscal restraint and possibly selecting a European airframe.
Turkey had publicly selected the Kamov/Israeli Aircraft Industries (IAI) Ka-52 as its default aircraft if negotiations with Bell broke down. The unusual identification of a backup aircraft was done to prod the U.S. government to permit Turkey access to the Cobra source codes for avionics and weapons integration. Nonetheless, Turkey opted not to procure the Ka-52 — at least not yet.
Indeed, the decision gives new life to the Ka-52 and three other previously discounted helicopters: Eurocopter’s Tiger, Boeing’s AH-64 Apache, and AgustaWestland’s A129 Scorpion (International Mangusta).
Bond Takes First AS332 L2
Bond Offshore Helicopter Ltd has taken delivery of the first of six AS332 L2 Super Pumas ordered in September 2002. Four of the aircraft are scheduled to be delivered before the end of July, with the sixth being a highly advanced search-and-rescue helicopter to be delivered in August 2005. The first five aircraft are in the “Crew Change” configuration. Geoffrey Williams, Bond managing director, said that the delivery of the aircraft marks the return of the company to offshore activities, the result of a service contract with BP. The aircraft will operate in the North Sea to service oil platforms located 140 nm from the coast.
Enstrom Offers Spraying Kits
Enstrom Helicopter is offering an ag spraying kits for installation on its 280FX and F28C piston model helicopters. The kits are built by Troutdale, Ore.-based Isolair Inc., a manufacturer of firefighting, agricultural spray and broadcast systems for the helicopter industry. Enstrom President Larry Mullins said that four kits have already been sold, with a cost of less than $26,000 in most countries. “Isolair has been very successful in this market and initial sales show that this will be a very welcome option to our broad range of uses for our piston models,” he said. The dry chemical system installed weighs 85 lb., while the wet chemical installed weighs 127 lb.
Heli-Dyne Rejuvenates Oldest BK117
Hurst, Texas-based Heli-Dyne Systems, Inc. has just finished an extensive overhaul of the oldest known existing production model of the BK117. The revitalization program for the aircraft included a complete refurbishment of its interior, an upgraded avionics system, a paint job and even a new tail number. CJ Systems originally placed the aircraft into operation with the Medstar air medical services program at Washington Hospital Center in Washington, D.C. It served that function for 20 years before being relegated to CJ Systems’ backup fleet. Following the renovation, CJ Systems will be placing it back into full-time air medical services at Baptist LifeFlight in Mobile, Ala.
In other BK117 news, Tech Tool Plastics has announced approval of an STC for a new line of optically superior replacement windows. These include windshields, skylights, chin bubbles and cabin windows.
Rotorcraft Adds to Bell Fleet
Rotorcraft Leasing Company, LLC, has taken delivery of two new Bell 407s, bringing its total all-Bell fleet size to 38 helicopters, including 16 JetRangers, 18 LongRangers, two 412s and the two new 407s. Rotorcraft is based in Broussard, La. and is the third largest operator in the Gulf of Mexico. It was recently created out of the merger of three companies: Rotorcraft Technologies, Rotorcraft Leasing and Ranger Aviation.