Celebrating its 20-year anniversary in 2012, Eurocopter marked key achievements by evolving and expanding the company’s rotorcraft product line, broadening an already extensive international industrial footprint, and continuing the development of services activities worldwide.
The year’s successes underscored Eurocopter’s industry leadership since its 1992 creation through a merger of the Aerospatiale and MBB helicopter divisions – later becoming a business unit of EADS.
Among the evolved rotorcraft introduced by Eurocopter in 2012 was the EC130 T2. Retaining the external lines of its popular EC130 lightweight single-engine helicopter, approximately 70 percent of the airframe structure has been modified for the EC130 T2 version.
Features of the EC130 T2 include a more powerful Arriel 2D turboshaft engine and upgraded main gearbox, an active vibration control system and the integration of a crashworthy fuel tank. Inside, the EC130 T2’s cabin interior structure is redesigned with a full flat floor, while new energy-absorbing seats improve weight and balance for passenger loading; and increased maintenance accessibility is provided for the electrical and air conditioning systems. Additionally, the helicopter’s cockpit is updated for enhanced man-machine interface.
Eurocopter unveiled the EC130 T2 at February’s Heli-Expo exhibition in Dallas, Texas, and the initial helicopter was delivered eight months later to U.S. tour operator Maverick Aviation Group – a launch customer for this rotorcraft type.
“Enhancing our product line is an essential element in Eurocopter’s strategy to maintain its competitive edge,” explained Eurocopter President & CEO Lutz Bertling. “This strategy’s success was demonstrated by the EC130 T2’s commercial response: at its public unveiling, we already had seven launch customers who booked 105 helicopters.”
In 2012, Eurocopter also pursued the flight test and certification program for its EC145 T2 – the medium-size, twin-engine EC145 family’s latest evolution, with deliveries to begin in 2013. One of the most visible changes is the incorporation of Eurocopter’s Fenestron® shrouded fan-in-tail rotor, while the use of FADEC-equipped Arriel 2E engines extend the helicopter’s cruise speed to 134 kts. and the operating ceiling to 18,000 feet. The EC145 T2 also further improves on the EC145’s comprehensive avionics by adding a four-axis dual digital autopilot as standard, and introducing Eurocopter’s new family avionics solution with fully integrated large-screen flight and navigation displays.
Another “evolution” product launch in 2012 was the Super Puma AS332 C1e – a configuration of Eurocopter’s 9-ton class, twin-engine helicopter that offers shorter lead times and highly competitive operational and maintenance costs. Launch customer for the AS332 C1e is Starlite Aviation Group – a company that offers a wide range of helicopter services to international clients such as United Nations agencies and NGOs.
The year marked a startup of deliveries for Eurocopter’s evolved AS350 B3e version, which is powered by a Turbomeca Arriel 2D turboshaft engine with a new-generation digital FADEC, and an engine data recorder for condition monitoring. The integration of Eurocopter’s dual-screen Vehicle and Engine Multifunction Display (VEMD) in the AS350 B3e’s cockpit enables pilots to check primary aircraft and engine parameters in one glance – thus reducing workload and enhancing safety.
New product activity in 2012 included the maiden flight of Eurocopter’s first series production EC175 – which is being developed in cooperation with Chinese industrial partner AVIC for deliveries beginning in 2013. The performance figures for this medium twin-engine helicopter have been improved from the original specifications, with a recommended cruise speed of 150 kts. – 10 kts. faster than the previous figure without affecting payload range – while the maximum cruise speed exceeds 165 kts., all at extremely low vibration levels. Eurocopter is applying the newest avionics family – “Helionix” – that meets the latest international avionics standards, and makes the EC175 the second aircraft to apply it, after the Airbus A380.
Eurocopter’s development of its next-generation “X” series helicopters advanced in 2012 as well, led by the five-to-six metric ton twin-engine X4. Incorporating breakthrough technologies from Eurocopter and its supplier team, the X4 is to deliver new levels of performance and comfort, along with 20-30 percent lower operating costs per passenger than current-generation rotorcraft, and a reduction in sound levels by as much as 30 to 50 percent. The X4 will come to market in two versions: an initial configuration incorporating the majority of innovation in terms of airframe, engine, systems, rotors and maintainability, with deliveries from 2017; and the final configuration, further enhanced with a newly-designed cockpit, delivered beginning in 2020.
The X3 – Eurocopter’s hybrid demonstrator equipped with a pair of turboshaft engines to power both a five-blade main rotor system and two propellers installed on short-span fixed wings – performed a seven-week U.S. demonstration tour in 2012. During its “red, white and blue” American trip, civil and military operators experienced the revolutionary flight characteristics of this high-speed, long-range aircraft as the X3 made appearances in four states from Texas to Virginia.
During 2012, Eurocopter also made important steps in expanding the company’s global industrial footprint, which is part of its strategy of being close to the customers and developing a presence in key markets. It inaugurated a new Brazilian rotary-wing center of excellence, where Brazilian Armed Forces EC725 helicopters and civilian EC225 versions will be assembled. Additionally, the Eurocopter Kazakhstan Engineering joint venture is delivering EC145s assembled in Kazakhstan, and Eurocopter signed to create a completion and customization center for the Ecureuil family of light helicopters in Tianjin, China through an in-country joint venture.
Another important element of Eurocopter’s leadership strategy is the growth of its international services network through development of company-operated facilities, as well as in cooperative efforts.
For training services, Africa’s first full-motion helicopter flight simulator was commissioned by Eurocopter during 2012 at the SimAero training center in South Africa, making a highly capable training device available for pilots and flight engineers operating the Super Puma and similarly-compatible helicopters. In Mexico, a cooperative agreement for the training of helicopter maintenance technicians is now available at the joint training facility opened by Eurocopter de México and Turbomeca México – the first of its kind on the American continent to offer Spanish-speaking instructors.
Both training and support services were reinforced at the Singapore-based Eurocopter South East Asia subsidiary in 2012, which becomes the company’s Asia-Pacific training center through an expansion that includes the installation of a Dauphin AS365 N3/N3+ full-flight simulator, along the stand-up of Dauphin-family rotorcraft maintenance, repair and overhaul capacity. For Japan, Eurocopter opened a new 150,000-square-foot facility at Kobe Airport for maintenance, repair, overhaul and engineering services capable of handling up to 120 aircraft per year.
An example of Eurocopter’s helicopter upgrade capabilities in 2012, was the hand over to the UK Ministry of Defence of the first Puma Mk2 medium battlefield helicopter, which is being improved by the company in a life extension program; while deliveries began during the year of Eurocopter-upgraded CH-53GA transport helicopters to Germany’s armed forces.