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2014 Year In Review: Twelve Months, Many Stories

By By Rotor & Wing Staff | December 1, 2014



In February of 2014, Enstrom Helicopter introduced a prototype of its TH180, a brand new, single-engine piston design intended for the flight training and private ownership markets. Photo by Rotor & Wing Staff

This month, we here at Rotor & Wing are reflecting upon what the industry has seen in 2014. As we flipped back through calendar, many things were brought back to mind.

The year saw just about every helicopter manufacturer making major announcements about their companies. New aircraft were announced, experimental programs took giant leaps forward, and executive personnel moved from place to place. One company even changed its name – a switch that still hasn’t completely taken hold in most conversations. (Everyday someone can be heard saying, “Oh, I meant to say Airbus.”)

The past few months have also seen impressive advances in communications, tracking, engines and even cabin lighting. Major suppliers have cracked the design and pricing codes needed to bring the high-end technology found in business jets and airliners to the helicopter. This has been great in an economy where retrofitting an older aircraft is often more penny-wise than buying a new one.

2014 was also a year where the general and aviation communities turned more of its attention to unmanned helicopters. In fact, this is the year that we at Rotor & Wing decided to bring aboard a permanent UAS expert to follow this emerging, controversial and regulation-resistant aspect of aviation.

Safety remained high on everyone’s list, too, which was the driving factor behind the new aircraft designs, bursts in technology and concerns about UASs mentioned above. Best of all, the accident fatality rate was down in 2014 compared to 2013.

But sadly, we saw the death of one of the most brilliant minds in helicopter aerodynamics, Ray Prouty, who passed away on Sept. 26. As many of you know, the talented engineer was also a longtime contributor to this magazine.

To close out the year, a group of Rotor & Wing’s contributors looked back at the things they felt were significant within their individual specialties. What follows are their observations.

Unmanned Aerial Systems

By Mark Colborn

One of the most popular, ready-to-fly UAS on the market is the DJI Phantom 2 quadcopter with Tarot 3-axis GoPro Hero3 gyro-stabilized camera mount. Photo by Mark Colborn In 2006, a college student at the University of Science and Technology in Shenzhen, China, skipped class to start a consumer drone business. Seven years later, his company would captivate over 50 percent of the worldwide commercial and industrial Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) market, employ over 900 people, and expect earnings of over $131 million. DJI Innovations has been hailed as the Pearl River Delta’s answer to Apple, and is the producer of the most popular multi-rotored UAS’s in the world. Internet sites feature spectacular aerial images of nearly every famous landmark in the world, most captured with DJI machines.

The technology became so affordable in late 2013 that sales exploded. And 2014 became the year of the multi-rotor UAS, and the problems their operators were creating for the FAA.

Would-be movie makers were drawn to our national parks by the spectacular scenery and a new way to capture it. They became an annoyance and inconvenience for other visitors, not to mention crashing into landmarks. The National Park Service was forced to outright ban them. So many UAS’s were flying over packed sports stadiums that the FAA banned overflights unless one possesses a waiver. These revised TFR’s were issued in November, and cover sporting events with over 30,000 or more fans, and ban flights over both Disney amusement park locations.

In the first real test of the FAA’s authority over commercial and hobby UAS operations, an NTSB Administrative Law Judge ruled FAA “policy statements” are unenforceable. The FAA was advised they needed to legally draft new UAS regulations through the Notice of Proposed Rule Making (NPRM) process.

The FAA moved forward with an “Interpretation of the Special Rule for Model Aircraft” spelling out what the agency believed should be allowed and what should be banned. Comments on this “interpretation” were then solicited via a Notice of Proposed Rule Making. The comment period was extended to September 23rd. Commenters overwhelmingly told the FAA to butt out; model aircraft flyers do not want any more regulations.

The process of legally drafting new regulations takes time. In the meantime, the FAA is warning UAS operators that it will treat airspace and safety-of-flight rules seriously and continue to take enforcement actions. The agency recently revised its Compliance and Enforcement Handbook, adding procedures for violating UAS operators. Action could be in the form of civil penalties or certificate actions (suspensions) should an operator possess a pilot’s license. The FAA is holding licensed pilots to a higher standard. A licensed pilot is expected to know the safety risks (to persons on the ground and to manned aircraft) if they choose to fly a radio-controlled copter over a packed stadium or within a Class Bravo surface area.

The FAA, showing some flexibility however, relaxed some rules for commercial film operators, granting exemptions from special airworthiness certification requirements that apply to commercial operators. New UAS regulations are coming soon. Indications point to the FAA banning flights in controlled (B, C, and D) and restricted airspace, unless the operator receives prior permission from the controlling agency, must stay below 400 ft. AGL, and remain within line-of-sight of the machine. I also suspect they will require some type of ground school training on flight rules, and require markings on each machine to identify the owner should it go astray. 

Safety & Training

By Keith Cianfrani

Although the 2014 accident fatality rate is down compared to 2013, there still are too many accidents that are occurring that could be prevented. In 2014, the rotorcraft industry focused on risk management through many programs that reduce hazards, such as Safety Management Systems (SMS) with large and small operators, Safety through Flight Data Monitoring (FDM), and SMS with CFIs. Here is what I saw the focus to be in the area of safety for 2014.

Risk Management and SMS

Even though a formal safety management program is not yet required in general aviation, many of the larger operators have been using SMS programs for several years now. Because of this, in 2014, was a noticeable increase in hazard mitigation and a decrease in fatalities. One area emphasized in the industry by the U.S. Helicopter Safety Team (USHST) and the International Helicopter Safety Team (IHST) in 2014 was safety management for smaller operators and flight training programs.

Executive Accountability and Safety Management

With the availability of many SMS programs, there are still a large percentage of owners and executives that have not embraced safety management and do not promote safety culture as a “value” and a tool to reduce accidents. Safety leadership starts from the top down and permeates throughout an organization.

Safety through Flight Data Monitoring

This is one of the mitigation tools that began in 2014 and I believe we will see more of it in the upcoming years. The research objectives seek to examine the current state of the art in rotorcraft FDM products and services, and implement a system for data collection. Participating operators will be sending data to Helicopter Association International were experts will analyze and identify shortcomings with corresponding means of improvement. Look for more on this in 2015.

SMS and CFIs

It is a CFI’s responsibility to train and produce safe pilots. USHST’s challenge is to promote safety with smaller operators and flight training programs and to encourage the use of SMS as part of a safety management plan. Flight instructors must understand SMS and have the capability to “transfer their knowledge” to their students, instilling a life-long safety culture that we consistently promote.

FAA Final Rule to Improve Helicopter Safety

On February 20, 2014, the FAA issued a final rule that requires helicopter operators, including air ambulances, to have stricter flight rules and procedures, improved communications, training, and additional on-board safety equipment. The rule represents the most significant improvements to helicopter safety in decades and responds to government’s and industry’s concern over continued risk in helicopter operations. Most of the operational requirements were to become effective within 60 days of publication, or by April 22, 2014, but are now extended to April 22, 2015.

Conclusion

Implementing a Safety Management System into an organization, large or small, will help save lives and resources. There was much progress with safety awareness and safety management in 2014, but the rotorcraft industry still has a long way to go to fully understand and implement a safety culture. One of the best tools for achieving this is to visit the USHST’s website.

As always, “Take Action to Fly Safe.”

Military

By Andrew Drwiega, International Bureau Chief 

Over 200 Airbus Group UH-72A Lakotas 
will begin a new life as the ab initio training aircraft for pilots at Fort Rucker, Ala. 
Photo courtesy Airbus Group

The drawdown from Afghanistan together with the effects of sequestration will be a watershed between the “big army” deployment that has categorized the last decade against the future expeditionary-styled commitments that the U.S. government envisages in the future.

The necessity of fighting asymmetric wars in Iraq and Afghanistan has firmly placed the helicopter back into the front line of operations and away from the mainly supportive role that it was mainly associated with during the Cold War with the Warsaw Pact (as it was then).

The aviation industry continued to rethink its strategy in the military sector thanks to the ongoing effects of budget cuts in the United States, as well as in Europe. However, the Middle East and Asia have picked up some of the slack through their increasingly stronger economic position.

The U.S. pivot to the Pacific, as well as China’s resurgence in terms of its foreign policy objectives designed to support economic growth, have refocused many nations onto the need to bolster border and maritime security. New military customers have emerged through their greater economic strength, such as Indonesia in Asia and Poland in Europe. Military rotorcraft acquisition has remained largely a constant in the cash-rich Persian Gulf, led by Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.

India has had a large requirement to modernize, although its plans were drastically slowed by the AgustaWestland AW101 bribery accusations and subsequent trial of senior Italian officials.

The world has woken to new rotorcraft manufacturing opportunities witnessed by the fielding of China’s new AVIC Z-10 and Z-19 attack helicopters, Korean Aerospace Industries’ development of its KUH-1 Surion and Light Armed Helicopter, as well as Russia’s continuing efforts to improve its offerings and expand its market share. 

U.S. Army Aviation Restructuring

Bell Helicopter’s mock-up of its V-280 Valor tiltrotor for the Joint Multi Role Technology Demonstrator (JMR TD) was on display in May at the Army Aviation Association of America’s (Quad-A) annual convention in Nashville, Tenn.Photo by Andrew Drwiega

The U.S. Army’s Aviation Restructuring Initiative (ARI) was announced at the beginning of 2014 as a proactive measure to reduce aviation’s costs in line with the overall reductions necessary as a result of sequestration.

The main decisions were based around the following:

– consolidate all of the Army’s AH-64 Apaches into the Active Component leaving none in the Army National Guard. Unmanned aerial systems (UAS) would work with these Apaches in the armed scout role allowing the OH-58 Kiowa Warrior fleet to be permanently taken out of service

– the search for an Armed Aerial Scout (AAS) helicopter program would be shelved indefinitely

– transfer virtually all the new Army Active Component and half of the National Guard LUH-72 Lakota utility helicopters to the U.S. Army Aviation training center at Fort Rucker, Ala., where it would replace the existing Bell T-67 Creek a the new training helicopter

– transfer 111 UH-60 Black Hawk utility helicopters to the National Guard to make up for their loss of the UH-72s

Opposition to this plan from the National Guard community has been strong, losing both the attack element of its aviation arm as well as its newest utility helicopters.

The Army had been trying to replace its Kiowa Warrior fleet since the jointly developed Boeing/Sikorsky RAH-66 Comanche was selected in 1991. However that was cancelled in 2004.

On Feb. 24, 2015, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel qualified his recommendations to the president for the Defense Department’s FY2015 Budget Request. During his summary, he said he understood that the National Guard would be unhappy at some of the decisions. While praising its important contribution, he stated that “no successor to the OH-58 is planned” and that “the Armed Aerial Scout (AAS) [is] on indefinite hold, [with a requirement for] the Apache attack helicopter fleet supported by unmanned systems to fill the reconnaissance role for the foreseeable future.”

Further he said, “The decision to take 100 UH-72 Lakotas from the active force and a similar number from the Army National Guard is a sensible move, although again a loss to those who have praised it since its on-time, on-cost introduction. With such a modern active component fleet in army aviation of digitally equipped aircraft, not having ab initio pilots trained on a digital twin engine aircraft makes no sense in the following years, particularly when home based flying hours are going to be around 10.7 hours per crew per month – even less in the reserve. There will simply be no time to train new pilots fresh out of the US Army Aviation Center at Fort Rucker on digitally equipped aircraft at each individual unit, as all of that precious flying time will be needed for training.”

He acknowledged that the ARI was “a plan of compromises but there is clearly no right decision for everyone. The hard fact is that the military across all services is faced with reduction. Less helicopters, fewer aircraft, a shrinking navy. It is being mirrored throughout Europe too, with just the same rear guard fighting but in many cases, with seemingly less logic to the cuts that have been more guided by financial rather than strategic directive. Nobody wants to see their nation weaker – and strength is about retaining the most effective of your capabilities, and using what you have to best advantage until more funds allow rebuilding and strengthening.”

Future Vertical Lift Moves Forward

Sikorsky’s S-97 Raider armed reconnaissance rotorcraft based on the rigid X2 rotor coaxial design was unveiled in October at Sikorsky’s West Palm Beach facility in Florida.Photo courtesy Sikorsky

During the same address Hagel confirmed the continuation of the budget behind the industry’s development of a next-generation Joint Multi-Role Technology Demonstrator (JMR TD) rotorcraft, an initial airframe that could lead to the Future Vertical Lift (medium) design for the U.S. Army. The first phase budget had been slated at $217 million. If the leading design is selected to move forward after 2017, it, or a modified version of it, could eventually replace all of Army Aviation’s fleet of AH-64 Apaches and UH-60 Black Hawks post-2030.

On Aug. 12, the U.S. Army announced that both the Sikorsky/Boeing SB>1 Defiant and Bell Helicopter V-280 Valor had been selected to built their high-speed rotorcraft technology demonstrators for first flight in 2017. This left the other two competitors, AVX Aircraft and Karem Aircraft with designs but no further momentum, although it is expected that some funding will be found that will keep them in the game, if only to ensure the Army continues to receive a wide range of technical advice going forward. AVX’s design was also based on a coaxial-rotor and Karem’s was focused on a variable-speed tilt rotor.

Both of the selected JMR TD airframe designs take the rotorcraft’s speed to well over 200 knots. Bell’s V-280’s Valor is slated for a speed of around 280 knots while the Sikorsky/Boeing Defiant will exceed 230 knots.

Both leading design teams have signed up their own extensive aerospace industry partnerships to progress their technologies forward. As of October, Bell’s Team Valor comprised: Lockheed Martin, AGC, Astronics, Eaton, General Electric, GKN Aerospace, IAI Aerospace, Lord, Meggitt, Moog, Spirit AeroSystems and TRU Simulation and Training.

Their competitors, Sikorsky/Boeing must also have an equally impressive lineup, although they did not wish to provide a list of their industry team members for this article until they had all been officially announced.

Scouting for Helicopters

Keeping with Sikorsky, in October the company revealed its S-97 Raider armed reconnaissance helicopter. This is the aircraft that it would have proposed for the U.S. Army’s Armed Aerial Scout (AAS) requirement. However, with Army’s ARI having effectively ruled that platform out, at least in the short term, Sikorsky is still pushing ahead with the ongoing development and flight test program which it and its industry partners are funding (the split is around 75 percent Sikorsky with the remainder split between the 53 main suppliers).

There will be two S-97 prototypes which are based on the company’s X2 technology, once again around a coaxial rotor design with a pusher propeller at the back. The cruise speeds will be around 220 knots although it is expected to fly significantly faster at full speed.

Maneuverability has been continually stressed as one of its major attributes with the ability to hover in hot and high conditions while accurately engaging ground targets.

Sikorsky President Mick Maurer called the S-97 “the next generation of military rotorcraft, with capabilities and performance never seen before in our industry.”

The S-97 Raider has a composite airframe, a single engine and a weight just in excess of 11,000 lbs. Two pilots will sit side-by-side with the option of an array of weapons and sensors or the option of carrying up to six soldiers in the rear.

Technology

By Frank Lombardi

Honeywell’s Synthetic Vision System uses Max-Viz optics to superimpose a camera view of the world over digital terrain information to warn of obstacles.
Photo by Ernie Stephens

In April 2014, as part of some new rulemaking, the FAA mandated that all helicopter operators follow enhanced procedures for flying in weather, at night, and in remote locations. One of the rule changes will require the helicopter EMS community to use the latest technology to help avoid terrain and obstacles by year 2017. This is the job of the Helicopter Terrain Awareness and Warning System (HTAWS). HTAWS goes far beyond the functionality of a radar altimeter. Although not actively “looking” ahead of the aircraft with radar, these systems can alert a pilot of approaching terrain, wires, or other hazards through the use of high-resolution terrain databases, flight path data, and very sophisticated algorithms. Producers of HTAWS devices continue to refine their technology and as a result, the frequency of nuisance alerts continues to decrease with each new model.

For decades, cockpit flight data recorders have been a standard installation in every commercial airliner. The data they collect has long been recognized as a significant contributor to the safety of air travel. Historically, these flight data monitoring systems (FDMs) have been too large and heavy for weight-sensitive aircraft like helicopters. At last, shrinking technology has caught up with, and answered the need for a compact, lightweight system to record helicopter flight data.

Appareo Systems, for example, has produced their Vision 1000 FDM to specifically address the needs of the helicopter industry. At less than 300 grams and fitting in the palm of your hand, this system mounts over the shoulder of the crew in a position to record video of the instrument panel. At the same time, it collects over 14 parameters, including latitude, longitude, altitude, ground and vertical speed, as well as aircraft heading and attitude. Despite its small size, it contains a very accurate roll, pitch, and yaw gyroscope in the system’s inertial measuring unit. The data is collected on an SD memory card, and can be replayed using 3D modeling software. The system is self-contained within a crashworthy casing. With the ability to assess flight performance as well as produce invaluable information in the event of an accident, you can expect to see units such as this one quickly become standard equipment in helicopter cockpits in the near future.

Notable Articles

HTAWS

HUMS

Avionics

Web Portal to iOS

OEMs

By Ernie Stephens, Editor-at-Large

There were plenty of happenings with the original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) this year. It began in January with Eurocopter officially changing its name to Airbus Helicopters, an affirmation of its ties to parent company Airbus. A month later at Heli-Expo, Bell Helicopter unveiled the totally new 505 Jet Ranger X, its high-tech offering for the light turbine market. The following day, Enstrom used the expo to introduce a mockup of its brand new, two-seat TH180, which aims to give individual owners and flight schools a new choice for a small piston. Also on display was the Marenco SKYe SH09, yet another brand new light helicopter design from an equally new Swiss company. And not to be left out, the summer saw Sikorsky roll out its S-97 Raider mockup, an armed, hybrid rotorcraft billed as “the next big thing in Army aviation.”


The Bell 505 (left) and the Marenco SKYe SH09 (right) took first flights in 2014, marking big milestones for two brand new helicopter designs.


And any OEM that didn’t have a brand new helicopter to introduce, had an attractive upgrade to a current model that made heads turn.

What turned my head turn the most in 2014, however, is a tie between the first flights of the Bell 505 and the SKYe SH90. It’s a thrill for all involved in a hot, new program when they can actually hear the engine light off and see the landing gear break ground for the first time. It’s something akin to the first time a parent hears their child utter her first real word and take her first real step. The events speak to major advancements in materials, technology, performance and comfort, and a widening of choices for the helicopter consumer.

The excitement in experimental aircraft seen in 2014 won’t be isolated, though. I see 2015 bringing more forward movement in the programs that were recently unveiled, and the introduction of aircraft and upgrades currently under wraps. And with the world hungry for an aircraft that will maneuver like a helicopter and sprint like a plane, you can expect more unconventional designs in the near future, too.

Here are some links to look back upon:

SKYe SH09

Eurocopter Becomes Airbus

Sikorsky S-97 Raider

Enstrom TH180

Bell 505

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