Commercial, Military, Products, Regulatory


By Staff Writer | August 1, 2004
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Pentagon Approves CH-53X

The Pentagon's Joint Requirements Oversight Council formally approved the CH-53X heavy-lift helicopter in July, paving the way for aircraft development early next year. The Defense Acquisition Board will review the program in December, with the Marine Corps anticipating awarding a development contract to Sikorsky soon thereafter.

The CH-53X will be a newly manufactured helicopter designed to carry 30,000 lb. in hot and high conditions over a 110 nm. radius, greatly improving the Marines' heavy-lift capabilities over the aging and overtaxed CH-53E. An initial operating capability is planned for 2015 and at least 154 replacement helicopters will be procured, service officials said.


The decision underscores the increasing importance of helicopters, particularly heavy-lift helos, to the U.S. military. Indeed, helicopters are among the most heavily used military assets in Iraq and Afghanistan. And although some analysts have argued that the CH-5X is superfluous in lieu of the joint heavy-lift rotorcraft, the Pentagon has decided otherwise.

In part that's because the joint heavy-lift rotorcraft will not be fielded until 2015 or 2020. In the meantime, the U.S. military has expanding heavy-lift requirements and missions that it must address now. For example, CH-53Es that have been deployed to Iraq have been fitted with a rear gun and anti-armor ballistic flooring.

The CH-53X will also dramatically reduce logistic and support costs, which are escalating rapidly because of increased wear and tear on the aircraft. The CH-53E costs roughly $15,000 per flight hour. The Marines aim to cut that cost in half through a variety of improvements, including vibration control technology and a health and usage monitoring system.

FAA Amends Helicopter Noise Certification Regs

FAA rules governing helicopter noise certification were amended effective July 2. The amendment resulted from an effort by FAA to harmonize U.S. noise regulations with those of the JAA. The changes are to 14 CFR Part 36. These changes will make noise certification requirement uniformly standard in the United States, the JAA countries and other countries that have adopted the regulations of the FAA, JAA or International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), according to the FAA. Passage of the amendment will allow helicopters to be imported or exported without having to be put into compliance with a different set of regulations. Specifics of the amendment can be found in Federal Register dated July 2, 2004, pages 31226-31237. Interested parties can also contact Charles Chung, director of regulations and international affairs at HAI, telephone: 703-683-4646.

VXX Fight Continues Beneath the Radar

The U.S. Navy has delayed awarding a VXX contract until after the presidential election in November. However, this being an election year, the fight between the VH-92 and US101 continues apace, albeit beneath the radar in the media and courts of congressional and public opinion.

The Navy delayed a contract award ostensibly because it required more time to analyze the competing bid proposals from Sikorsky (VH-92) and Lockheed Martin-AgustaWestland (US101). But most analysts have discounted this explanation and have attributed the delay instead to politics. The Pentagon and Bush administration, it is argued, sidestepped a politically explosive issue in a volatile campaign season.

The issue is explosive because the US101 is a derivative of the Anglo-Italian EH101--and Sikorsky has been relentlessly touting its "all-American" S-92. The nationality of the companies matters to some Americans concerned about the "outsourcing" of jobs to foreign firms and workers. According to Sikorsky, a foreign-designed helicopter also may compromise presidential and national security.

"Let's have skilled, trustworthy American hands build that helicopter," the company said in a recent advertisement in the Washington Post. "The Sikorsky VH-92 is designed, manufactured, and assembled in the U.S. There's no better way to ensure the mission safety and the security of the Commander-in-Chief."

The Lockheed Martin-AgustaWestland team dismisses the charge that the US101 may pose a security risk to the president. Each industry team, they observed, must meet myriad security requirements; otherwise they are ineligible for the VXX contract.

Lockheed Martin-AgustaWestland has been less overtly political in marketing the US101. They have argued instead that their aircraft and avionics systems are superior to what is being offered by Sikorsky and its team of subcontractors. (When pressed, Sikorsky makes the same boast.)

Nonetheless, the US101 team has not ignored the political dimension of this competition; quite the contrary. They have advertised in influential political journals like the Weekly Standard and touted widespread support from Democrats and Republicans alike in the New York State Congressional delegation.

Similarly, a July 1 press release noted that a company owned by the Mississippi band of the Choctaw Indians, Applied Geo Technologies, will supply the helicopter's wiring harnesses. This "is yet another solid example of Team US101's commitment to create jobs by building, integrating and maintaining the US101 helicopter in the United States," said Lockheed Martin vice president and general manager, Stephen D. Ramsey.

Team US101 also has announced that it is partnering with Bell Helicopter Textron to manage, manufacture and assemble the aircraft in the United States. "Final assembly of the US101 will be at the Bell helicopter facility in Amarillo, Texas," said John Murphey. Murphey retired last year as chairman of Bell, but in May was appointed CEO of AgustaWestlandBell LLC, a new joint venture formed expressly for VXX.

VXX itself involves just 23 helicopters. The contract has outsized importance, though, because of its prestige value and because it gives the winner a likely lock on the forthcoming Air Force contract for 132 personnel recovery vehicles (PRVs).

"The contractors and the Pentagon are both saying, `The company that gets VXX gets PRV'," said aviation analyst Richard Aboulafia of the Teal Group. "That's why this fight is so tenacious."

VXX, he added, is more important to Sikorsky because the S-92 has yet to gain a government customer. "The government markets are waiting for some kind of U.S. government endorsement, but that won't happen without VXX," Aboulafia said.

The Pentagon has awarded separate $18 million "risk reduction contracts" to both industry teams. However, Congress has cut VXX funding by $220 million because of the delay in the program. Congressional staffers said this funding cut will not slow VXX procurement. The Bush administration countered that the cut will postpone initial operating capability by one year, from 2009 to 2010.

OH-6/AH-64s - Reunited?

Boeing and MD Helicopters are in discussions about a possible joint effort to compete for a future U.S. Army Attack/Reconnaissance helicopter to replace the now defunct RAH-67 Comanche.

Reportedly, the future aircraft would be an advanced version of the current AH/MH-6 Mission Enhanced Little Bird (MELB). Boeing acquired the original OH-6/Hughes 500 line when it bought out Hughes Helicopter. It then sold both the military and civil versions to MD Helicopters to concentrate on the AH-64 Apache.

Neither company is making any public statements, although sources state that an agreement was made in June that would allow the two companies to pursue the Army contract for a replacement of its aging OH-58D Kiowa Warriors and OH/MH/AH-6s. The two scout helicopter types currently serve primarily as reconnaissance helicopters with varying degrees of firepower. They also serve as executive transport for the Army.

The Army has indicated that it is looking for a new attack/reconnaissance helicopter, and that it has a preference for a follow-on version of the Little Bird. However, Henk Schaeken, MD Helicopters CEO, said that, "It is not a done deal that it is just going to be MELBs or MH-6s. I would not exclude at this point a competition. There are no signatures on the bottom line yet." The MELB is an upgraded version of earlier AH/MH-6s, using a more powerful engine and advanced avionics and weapon systems.

However, Schaeken did admit that he felt the MELB "is a clear front runner (since) it meets all the requirements and is one of the few aircraft out there that does meet all the requirements at a price that is competitive to some of the other aircraft out there."

While any competition for a new Army helicopter will not be decided within the next few years, the agreement between the two companies will be a big lift for MD Helicopters. The company has been in severe financial straits, with only 15 helicopters delivered in 2003 and reports of vendors refusing to provide parts because of the cash flow problem. The company already has orders for over 30 aircraft deliveries this year with a backlog that will carry it into second quarter of 2005, so its financial position should be improving.

With a potential order for some 370 Army helicopters, plus possible follow-on orders, on the line, the agreement for a joint venture with Boeing will give MD Helicopters greater credibility in the industry since Boeing would not be likely to go into a long term agreement with a company it did not feel would survive short term problems.

UK Pilot Smashes East-bound Around-The-World Record

At 17:33:27 GMT on 21 June 2004, an MD-500E piloted by Simon Oliphant-Hope touched down at its home base of Shoreham Airport on England's south coast, beating by almost a week the existing Around-the-World (eastbound) speed record. Oliphant-Hope circumnavigated the globe in just 17 days, 14 hours, and 2 minutes, departing eastbound from Shoreham on the sanctioned Federation Aeronautique Internationale flight.

Oliphant-Hope flew east across the breadth of Russia, to Alaska, south to the United States, north through Canada, then to Greenland, Iceland, and back to the UK. He traveled 20,259 nm, and finished one day ahead of his rigorous flight plan. An around-the-world speed record flight must cross all the lines of longitude and be at least the distance of the Tropic of Cancer (19,850 nm.)

Oliphant-Hope beat the previous eastbound world record of 24 days, 4 hours, and 36 minutes held by R&W's contributing writer Ron Bower of Austin, Texas. Bower made the solo trip in a Bell 206B JetRanger in 1994. Bower and co-pilot John Williams still hold the separate westbound record of 17 days and 6 hours, set in 1996 in a Bell 430. A separate feature on Oliphant-Hope's flight and a perspective on record setting, written by Ron Bower, is scheduled for R&W's September issue.

First Production S-92 Flies

Sikorsky Aircraft flew its first production S-92 on June 14, with company pilots Ron Doeppner and Andy Evans performing routine controllability maneuvers while performing standard engine and avionics checks during a 30-minute hovering flight. The first production flight followed some 2,500 hours of flight by five prototype aircraft. Of those five, two have been turned into special mission aircraft, one is being used as a VIP demonstrator as part of Sikorsky's bid for the new VXX presidential helicopter, one has been used in icing tests and the fifth was delivered to Sikorsky's training center in West Palm Beach, Fla.

The first production model was aircraft number six, which is being delivered this summer to Petroleum Helicopters, Inc. (PHI). PHI has ordered two S-92s for its fleet operating in the Gulf of Mexico. A total of 12 S-92s are scheduled for delivery during the remainder of 2004. More than 20 S-92s have been sold to date, with an additional 17 on option. Total sales to date total in excess of $340 million, which makes the S-92 the most successful new commercial product launch in the company's history, Sikorsky said. Other customers include Norsk Helikopter of Norway and CHC Helicopter Corp. in Canada.

Also in June the S-92 was certified by the European Aviation Safety Agency/Joint Aviation Authorities, becoming the first helicopter in the world to be certified by the EASA, thus earning Certificate Number One. It was already certified to FAR Part 29, Amendment 47. Transport Canada certification is expected during the summer. The aircraft is also close to finall certification for flight into known icing. Initial testing for icing was completed earlier this year with the aircraft flying behind a CH-47 icing tanker.

Osprey Still Airborne Despite Turbulence

The V-22 Osprey has successfully completed several important series of tests, albeit not without incidents that underscore concerns officials have about the quality of workmanship on the aircraft.

The V-22 completed shipboard suitability testing in late June. These tests were designed to overcome the aircraft's tendency to roll on deck when operating in tandem with another adjacent, hovering Osprey. Officials reprogrammed the aircraft's flight control system to eliminate this problem, and the shipboard compatibility tests reportedly were successful.

Indeed, in addition to overcoming uncommanded roll on deck, the V-22 landed on spots five and six of the USS Iwo Jima (LHD 7). These landing spots are closest to the ship's island, have the least amount of clearance and give pilots little room for maneuver. Moreover, the flight envelope for operations from spots two and four was expanded, officials said.

However, an Osprey was required to make an emergency landing when its right nacelle blower failed. The nacelle blower cools the oil that lubricates the gearbox when the aircraft is in helicopter mode. An engineering investigation is underway to determine the cause of the incident.

According to the program office, there may be a structural problem with the nacelle blower itself; or the shaft and coupling that hold the blower in place may have came loose from interaction with other components.

The failure occurred on a Low-Rate Initial Production (LRIP) aircraft, which is designed for testing, not deployment. The Block A Osprey has an anti-flailing device that protects the nacelle blower from damaging parts interaction, officials said. Deliveries of Block A aircraft began last fall.

This was the second incident in 10 days that required an Osprey to make an emergency landing. The first incident, which also is being investigated, involved a failure of the bleed air tube in the right nacelle. The program office is considering a redesign of the tube.

These problems underscore lingering concerns about whether the Osprey's manufacturer, Bell Boeing, is prepared to produce and deliver an airworthy aircraft in a timely manner. Earlier this year, the Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) in Patuxent River, Md, commissioned an independent, "non-advocate" review of the program precisely because it had concerns about the quality of workmanship on the aircraft. NAVAIR also questioned whether Bell Boeing is ready for full-rate production.

A March 31 report by the General Accounting Office acknowledged that "the program's production effort has had parts shortages and quality issues with excessive scrap and rework." However, "corrective actions have been taken and a positive trend has emerged," the report said.

The Osprey completed six months of icing tests in Nova Scotia in April. The aircraft's training squadron, VMX-22, completed more than a month of operational assessment testing in June and is preparing to take the V-22 through operational evaluation (OPEVAL) in January. The program was reviewed by the Defense Acquisition Board last month, after press time in mid-July.

Cormorant Flights Resume, Merlins Remain Grounded

Canada's CH-149 Cormorants resumed full flight operations in June after a two-month hiatus. However, Britain's HM Mk.1 Merlins and Merlin HC3 rotorcraft remain grounded.

The Cormorant and Merlin are EH101 derivatives and thus essentially the same aircraft. Flight operations for both helicopters were suspended when a Royal Navy Merlin crashed on March 30. The mishap severely injured the pilot; four other military passengers suffered minor injuries.

The accident reportedly was caused by cracks in the tailrotor. As a precautionary measure, the Canadian Air Force suspended flight training operations for its 15 Cormorants, while the British military grounded its entire fleet of 65 Royal Navy and Royal Air Force Merlins.

Similar flight restrictions had been imposed on the Cormorant in February after two aircraft developed fuel leaks near the engines. The RAF neutralized the problem by placing a rubber sleeve over the fuel lines to redirect the leaks away from the engines. Service officials said this is an interim solution until they can re-engineer the fuel lines.

The Cormorant's latest difficulties have been more intractable. There was no clearly discernable problem and no ready-made solution, according to CH-149 program manager, Lt. Col. Pierre Coulombe.

"Some of the [tailrotor] components are not as reliable as they were intended to be," he said, "so we are conducting more frequent inspections." However, he added, "all of our aircraft were found to be in good condition. We didn't find anything beyond [the manufacturer's specified] limits."

The British military declined to comment on the status of their Merlins except to say that they remain grounded and the accident is still under investigation.

Eurocopter, AgustaWestland Gain International Customers

Eurocopter and AgustaWestland have scored some notable successes recently in their ongoing effort to gain market share outside of Western Europe.

AgustaWestland signed a contract with the Malaysian Army on June 16 for the delivery of 11 A109s. Eight days later, the company delivered three of sixteen Super Lynx 300 helicopters to the Royal Oman Air Force.

Eurocopter has ventured into Eastern Europe, with Eurocopter Romania. The new subsidiary company was certified by the Romanian Civil Aeronautical Authority in January and, last month, delivered its first refurbished Puma helicopter to the British Ministry of Defense. Deliveries of three more refurbished Pumas are planned by the end of the year, company officials said.

Next month, Eurocopter Romania will begin upgrading 24 Puma helos owned and operated by the United Arab Emirates. The work will be done in conjunction with another Romanian company, S.C. IAR S.A. Brasov, and involve installation of new motors, avionics systems and automated piloting controls. Eurocopter Romania is designed to serve the domestic Romanian and East European civil markets, company officials said.

More Anti-Fire Power

The National Multi-Agency Coordinating Group, consisting of seven agencies involved in forest management, have signed contracts with private operators to add more than 100 aircraft, including 71 helicopters, to their fire fighting capabilities for the coming summer and fall fire season. The multi-agency group consists of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Park Service, Fish & Wildlife Agency, Bureau of Indian Affairs, National Association of State Foresters and a division of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

The organizations already have a combined fleet of more than 700 firefighting aircraft. The additional airplanes and helicopters are expected to cost roughly $66 million, which will come out of their combined budgets, according to a spokeswoman for the group. The agreements in some cases call for "exclusive use" contracts, in which the private vendor will provide aircraft and pilots exclusively to the group rather than on the usual "as needed" basis. Dan Sweet of Columbia Helicopters said that they have two 245 "Chinooks" on exclusive basis for fire fighting, one of which will carry 19 firefighters plus equipment and one capable of carrying 40 firefighters with equipment. The former is limited by internal fuel tanks. Both are also capable of dropping water from external bambi buckets.

HAI/Operators Fight Federal Motor Carrier Rule

HAI and operators of fire fighting helicopters are calling on Congress for assistance in getting the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to change its ruling on duty time for fuel truck drivers.

Current regulations limit the fuel truck drivers to 14 hours on duty in any 24-hour period. This can cause the fuel companies to add a second driver, which drives up the cost to the operators, as well as conflict with the duty hours of the helicopter pilots that could cause them to be unable to refuel as required.

Marty Pociask of the HAI said that it has been involved in this issue since last March and has asked the Department of Transportation to change the ruling, since the fuel truck drivers are not actually working during the 14 hour period and, in fact, have very long rest periods during that time. However, the DOT has refused, citing requirements for the carriage of hazardous materials. Pociask said that Congressional hearings on the issue were scheduled for July, and of this writing in mid June HAI was planning on providing testimony in favor of increasing the duty time.

Mark Gibson, chairman of the HAI legislative advisory committee and helicopter manager for Ashland, Ore.-based Timberland Logging, said that prior to January 4, drivers were allowed to go off duty during their 14-hour duty period, allowing them to remain with the refueling trucks when needed. However, the new ruling eliminated that authorization. He noted that there are three exemptions to the new rules being put into the Federal Highway Safety Authorization bill for both chambers of Congress. These would exempt utility drivers who might have to be on duty to service power lines or other utilities during crisis periods such as blizzards or hurricanes, movie or TV crew drivers who are not actually working most of the duty period and agricultural commodity drivers during harvest periods. Gibson said that fuel truck drivers providing support during a forest fire could easily fit into either of the first two categories since they would be on duty during a crisis period and that they would not actually be working during most of the period. The majority of the time the driver is simply waiting at the helipad for the helicopter to come back, he said.

He also noted that for large operators, there is not a major impact since they can send a driver out to relieve the on-duty driver. For small operators, it would cost about an extra $500 a day for another driver to be available to be taken out to relieve the first driver. He also noted that another problem is simply finding the number of truck drivers needed, since it is a very specialized job, with the driver not only knowing how to drive and operate a fuel truck, but having training in operations around a helipad.

Current rules allow drivers to drive up to 11 hours, rather than the previous 10, during a 14-hour duty day, but they cannot extend that duty day unless they have a sleeper berth.

DARPA Reiterates Commitment to Canard Rotor Wing

Boeing and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) have reiterated their commitment to the Canard Rotor/Wing and are preparing to fly a second X-50A Dragonfly prototype. The first prototype crashed while in helicopter mode on March 23 in Yuma, Ariz., and will be used to supply spare parts for the second prototype.

"Mishaps of this nature are common in development programs and lead to information that improves the product before production," Boeing said in a statement.

The cause of the accident is still largely unknown. Indeed, an interim mishap report recommended additional simulation and wind tunnel testing to identify more precisely the aircraft's flight characteristics.

"The mishap was most likely caused by a combination of interactions among rotor trim, control cross coupling, pilot inputs and possibly other unknown factors that overwhelmed the control authority," the report said.

"There was nothing we could have done with the control loop of the aircraft that might have caused or averted the crash," said DARPA director Dr. Tony Tether. "There must have been an external force at work."

Nonetheless, DARPA remains fully committed to developing vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) UAVs like the Canard Rotor/Wing. VTOL UAVs can be designed with "a very small signature" and have "tremendous utility" in an urban environment, Tether said. "It's too important a concept not to continue, and there's significant interest in the user community."

Eurocopter EC120 to be Produced in China

Eurocopter has signed an agreement with Hafei Aviation Industries (HAMC) and CATIC of China to allow the EC120 to be built in Harbin, China. The agreement is part of a new strategy developed by Eurocopter President Fabrice Bregier to get his helicopters into emerging markets. According to Eurocopter, China is currently the world's largest potential market for the helicopter industry, and the Chinese built HC120 "is the ad hoc aircraft for meeting the requirements of military, civil and parapublic customers," the company said. Bregier said that, "Considering the growing potential of the Chinese market and the capacities of Chinese industry, I believe this is only the beginning and that other developments will swiftly follow."

Under terms of the agreement, CATIC/HAMC has a 24 percent interest in the program and is responsible for the design and manufacturing of fully equipped fuselages to include the fuel system. Singapore Aerospace has a 15 percent share and is responsible for access doors, the tail boom and the composite structure of the Fenestron tail rotor. Eurocopter has the final 61 percent stake and engineering leadership. It will be responsible for overall design, specifications, ground tests, flight testing, design and production of the drive trains, the avionics suite, electrical systems, overall integration, primary assembly line and certification.

The first HC120 is scheduled to roll off the production line in Harbin before the end of the year. The aircraft will only be marketed in China and production capacity is expected to reach 20 aircraft per year.

Bell/KAI/Mitsui Sign Joint 427i Agreement

Bell Helicopter has signed a joint working agreement with Korea Aerospace Industries and Mitsui Bussan Aerospace Company to "develop, certify, produce and market the 427i IFR helicopter for the world market." The 427i will be the IFR version of the current VFR 427, but with a larger cabin, better performance and an upgrade transmission and rotor system ("Downright Giddy," May 2004, page 50). Bell CEO Mike Redenbaugh (left, back row) said that orders have been placed for over 42 aircraft with 20 more expected by the end of the year. The 427i is an 8-place light twin with a maximum gross weight of 7,000 lb and a useful load of 2,700 lb. It will have a maximum cruise speed will be 142 kt. and maximum range of 365 nm. The VFR 427 is powered by Pratt & Whitney 207D engines, and at this time it is expected the same engines will go on the IFR version.

The agreement was signed by Max Wiley, Bell vice president, Asia Pacific Sales (left) and Lee Kwang Kil, executive vice president and general manager, government programs for KAI.

Kazan To Repair Columbian Helicopters

Russian manufacturer Kazan Helicopter Factory will provide repair and modernization of Mi-17 helicopters for the Columbian government, according to Russian news sources. The news item stated that representatives of the two governments have signed an $18 million contract for the work, as well as for transfer of appropriate technology. The Columbian Ministry of Defense purchased the Mi-17 helicopters between 1997 and 2002 primarily to fight left-wing rebels.

300th EC135 Delivered

Eurocopter has delivered its 300th EC135, going to the North Midlands Police Air Support Unit in the UK. The aircraft was purchased by McAlpine Helicopters Ltd. of Kidlington, Oxfordshire, England and brings the total number of UK police orders for the EC135 to 16. Although this was the 300th delivered, over 350 EC135s have now been produced. McAlpine said that the new EC135 takes the total number of UK police orders for the aircraft to 16, with 14 now in service and two awaiting completion. McAlpine is the authorized sales and completion center for Eurocopter in the UK. Along with the 14 police helicopters for UK police forces, it has also completed six aircraft for police forces outside the UK, plus eight EMS versions and ten completions for corporate customers.

Book Review

"The Cambridge Aerospace Dictionary"

Every industry needs its own specialized dictionary to define its terms, and the new Cambridge Aerospace Dictionary does that quite nicely for the aerospace industry. Authored by Bill Gunston, Editor, Jane's Information Group, the dictionary contains literally thousands of definitions ranging from 32 separate definitions for the letter "A" to Zytel, a registered name for "nylon materials which remain flexible at extreme cryogenic temperatures." It also provides the definition of "cryogenic materials" as those suitable for use below -180 degrees C. Definitions for both words and acronyms are included, with acronyms ranging from the well know, such as HUD for head-up display, to totally obscure (PKE--Pluto Kuiper Express, from NASA) to the whimsical (TLC) which occasionally find their way into an official document. Gunston also provides a very valuable selection of appendices, providing information on items such as aerospace usages of letters of the Greek alphabet to worldwide civil aircraft registrations and NATO reporting names.

The book is also an excellent reference guide for writers uncertain as to how a word is written, such as "head-up display" rather than "heads up display," and it can be either HUD or Hud. Swashplate is one word, and it's "sweep-tip" blade rather than "swept-tip" blade. All in all, it is an excellent book to have on the shelf right beside Rogets International Thesaurus and the latest version of Webster.

The Cambridge Aerospace Dictionary is available from Cambridge University Press, 40 West 20th St., New York, N.Y. 10011-4211. Cost is $75.

BLR Earns FAA Approval for Performance Pack

The FAA has approved increased high-density hover performance for Bell's 204B, 205A-1 and UH-1H equipped with Boundary Layer Research tail boom strake modification kits. Use of the kits allows an additional 250 lbs of payload in hot/high conditions, the company said. The kits, termed "Performance Packs" were certified following testing in high-density altitude conditions near Greybull, Wyo. Testing is now underway for Bell 212s and 412s, with certification expected later this year.

Dave George, vice president rotorcraft manager for BLR, said that "with the unique approach to this project, we were able to maintain the expanded pedal safety margins at the critical wind azimuth offered by the strakes, and still provide a performance increase high and hot where operators need it." He added that current customers "will not have to buy new strake kits to take advantage of this performance feature. For them, we have an upgraded flight supplement that's now available."

R44s for Mountain Gorilla Flights

Akagera Aviation in Rwanda has taken delivery of three Robinson R44 Raven IIs to be used to ferry tourists to see Mountain Gorillas. The aircraft were delivered by National Airways Corp., which initially took delivery of the aircraft in Johannesburg, South Africa. The aircraft, which arrived disassembled, were reassembled and flown 2,100 nm from Johannesburg to Kigali, Rwanda for the turnover to Akagera.

Border Patrol Discounts Rotary-Wing UAVs

The Border Patrol is conducting a new long-term study on the feasibility of employing UAVs in lieu of manned aircraft. However, according to the agency's UAV program manager Rob Smith, UAVs will not replace Border Patrol helicopters. They might, though, affect the agency's use of fixed-wing aircraft.

"We're specifically looking at fixed-wing [UAV] platforms," Smith said. "I don't think having a rotary-wing platform adds anything."

Existing rotary-wing UAVs, he observed, have essentially the same limitations as manned helicopters, and they are not necessarily any more economical. By contrast, fixed-wing UAVs have a longer range and endurance and fly in a stealthy, unobservable manner at high altitudes.

Still, the Border Patrol is not ruling out rotary-wing UAVs. "If we determine through the feasibility study that there are niche missions for these platforms, then we'll look at that," Smith said.

The Border Patrol has discounted rotary-wing UAVs in part because the agency requires commercial, off-the-shelf technology. But current rotary-wing UAVs are essentially remotely piloted variants of manned helicopters. Northrop Grumman's RQ-8 FireScout, for instance, is basically a Schweizer 333 airframe with enhanced avionics.

The Border Patrol also requires demonstration aircraft that it can evaluate in the field. But neither the FireScout nor Bell's Eagle Eye tiltrotor are yet fleet deployable; consequently, they are not available to the Border Patrol for field demonstration ops, Smith said. The FireScout and Eagle Eye are both tentatively scheduled to achieve an initial operating capability in 2007.

The Border Patrol's UAVs feasibility study began in June 2003 and concludes at the end of FY05. Nineteen aircraft met the agency's request for information; these included just two rotary-wing platforms, the FireScout and Eagle Eye.

Only six of the 19 aircraft were available for field demonstration ops, which began in June. The Border Patrol is employing two Hermes 450 UAVs, but other systems may be included in the feasibility study, Smith said. The Hermes 450 is manufactured by Silver Arrow, a subsidiary of Israel's Elbit Systems.

Bell Ponders Production Rate for VFR 427

With the formal launch of the single-pilot IFR capable 427i now behind it, Bell Helicopter is still planning to continue production of the VFR version, although the question now is how many VFR versions of the aircraft to produce per year. Sales of the VFR 427 have been somewhat sluggish, with just over 40 sold since it began deliveries in 2000. Current production rate is seven to eight per year. Bell has already sold 42 IFR versions of the 427 and states that it expects to sell another 20 by years end.

However, there are still customers "out there who have VFR missions," according to Mike Cox, a Bell Helicopter spokesman. These customers do not need the more expensive IFR capabilities of the aircraft, he said. The basic VFR version of the 427 sells for $2.5 million compared to the $3.7 million for the larger IFR version.

Superior Helicopter Adds To K-MAX Fleet

Superior Helicopter LLC has expanded its Kaman K-MAX fleet, taking two additional aircraft to bring its total K-MAX fleet to six. Gary Jantzer, Superior Helicopter vice president, said that the helicopters will be used "in support of firefighting and construction work around the world." Roger Wassmuth, K-MAX head of marketing and business development for Kaman, noted that Superior Helicopter has the largest K-MAX fleet and "is doing important work in helping to battle wildfires around the world...saving lives, property and valuable forests." A K-MAX helicopter equipped with a sling tank can carry 700 gallons of water per drop.

Iraq Using Jordanian Helicopters for Pipeline Patrol

Despite the presence of U.S. Forces in Iraq, the Iraqi Oil Ministry has been forced to rent helicopters from Jordan to protect its oil pipeline and other facilities, according to local news sources. Patrolling with the Jordanian helicopters has already begun in northern Iraq, and additional helicopters are expected to be required. The news source, Al Itijah Al Akhar, stated that the pipeline has been attacked more than 100 times since the fall of the Saddam Hussein regime. The Royal Jordanian Air Force is currently training Iraqi airmen to fly the UH-1H, with the first class of 19 recently graduating and stationed at Tadji Air Base in Iraq. The Iraq Air Force currently has six UH-1H helicopters and expects to receive another 10 by next April.

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