Established in 1992, the Eurocopter Group is a division of EADS, a world leader in aerospace, defense and related services. Employing approximately 17,500 people, Eurocopter Group designs, develops, produces and markets the most comprehensive range of civil and military helicopters in the world.
One of the standout highlights of 2011 occurred on May 12, when Eurocopter’s X3 (X-cube) hybrid helicopter demonstrator reached speeds of 232 knots (430 km/h) true airspeed in level, stabilized flight. This occurred during only the third mission after a scheduled upgrade that integrated the X3’s definitive gearboxes.
“Future helicopters incorporating the X3 configuration will offer our customers about 50 percent more cruise speed and range at very affordable costs, therefore defining the future of high productivity rotary-wing aircraft,” noted CEO Lutz Bertling.
Another new member of Eurocopter’s helicopter family—the EC145 T2—was formally launched during Heli-Expo in March. An evolved version of the popular twin-engine EC145 that incorporates new Turbomeca Arriel 2E engines, along with the company’s Fenestron shrouded tail rotor, upgraded main and tail rotor gear boxes, the T2 has an innovative new digital avionics suite and a four-axis autopilot. With deliveries scheduled to start in 2013, the EC145 T2 will offer significantly improved performance, increased flight safety, enhanced human-machine interface, improved maintainability and lower operating costs. It benefits from the heritage of Eurocopter’s EC145 and its BK117 predecessor, which together have logged over 2.8 million flight hours in service around the world.
Also announced during Heli-Expo 2011 is the enhancement of four variants—the AS350, EC135, AS365/AS565 and AS332. The first of Eurocopter’s enhanced helicopters is the single-engine AS350 B3e. This updated version of the best-selling Ecureuil family has a more powerful Arriel 2D turboshaft engine, along with a new-generation digital FADEC and an engine data recorder for condition monitoring. Eurocopter’s EC135 T2e and P2e are evolved versions of its popular EC135 twin-engine helicopter, with an increased maximum takeoff weight of up to 2,950 kg, which offers a 40-kg gain in payload and allows an extra passenger to be carried with a load margin extension from its previous weight rating.
Enhancements for the AS365 N3e/AS565 MBe of Eurocopter’s medium-weight Dauphin family respond to market requests for improved hot-and-high performance, along with new technologies and systems. Primary changes are the introduction of Arriel 2N engines with dual-channel FADEC, use of the main gearbox from Eurocopter’s EC155 helicopter, the incorporation of a new Starflex rotor head, and the application of a reinforced main rotor mast. Improvements for the AS332L1e Super Puma are focused on the integration of Eurocopter’s advanced cockpit and automatic flight control systems employed on its EC225/EC725. This will offer enhanced flight envelope protection and increased safety levels, along with full compatibility for such new-generation mission equipment as FLIR sensors, H-TAWS, digital map units, and TCAS.
In October, Eurocopter unveiled another new concept with the first flight of a hybrid helicopter that combines a turboshaft internal combustion engine with an electric motor. The manufacturer is using the supplemental electric system to increase maneuverability of a single-engine helicopter during an autorotation landing—which is performed by helicopters in the event of a main engine failure. The demonstrator helicopter is a production version of Eurocopter’s light single-engine AS350, which has been equipped with a supplementary electric motor.
During EBACE in May, Eurocopter debuted the EC145 Mercedes-Benz Style, which features an easily transformable interior tailored for high-end corporate, executive and private operations. Conceived in a styling project led by the Mercedes-Benz Advanced Design Studio in Como, Italy, the interior of the EC145 Mercedes-Benz Style is inspired by the automaker’s range of high-end vehicles. It features deluxe materials, elegant woods and ambient cabin lighting, along with multi-function boxes.
Another major development at Eurocopter during 2011 was its acquisition of Vector Aerospace. The purchase of the Canadian MRO will help increase the growth of Support & Services activities for Eurocopter and EADS in both the civil and governmental markets. Vector Aerospace will also strengthen EADS’ presence in North America and the UK, in alignment with the company’s strategic goals as outlined in EADS’ Vision 2020 plan. EADS North America surpassed the halfway mark for deliveries of the U.S. Army UH-72A Lakota in August. The Army has received more than 50 percent of the planned 345 Lakotas involved in the light utility helicopter (LUH) program.
The latter stages of 2011 brought two advancements within Eurocopter Group divisions, with the November approval of the NH90 in the final tactical transport helicopter (TTH) configuration and Australian Aerospace’s delivery of the final production Tiger ARH to the Australian Defence Force (ADF) in December.
The NH90 approval marks the completion of the TTH development, and allows delivery of the initial NH90 TTH in the final operational configuration to the French Army. It will be followed by the startup of deliveries in 2012 to Italy, Belgium and Germany. Australian Aerospace handed over Tiger ARH022, the last of 22 helicopters, to ADF at its Final Assembly plant on Brisbane Airport. Acquired under Project Air 87, the Tiger replaces ADF’s existing rotary-wing force comprising Bell 206B-1 (Kiowa) reconnaissance and UH1-H (Iroquois) gunship helicopters.