8 Civil Rotorcraft Programs that Made Progress in 2017

By S.L. Fuller | December 27, 2017
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New helicopters are making their way to the world's markets, and 2017 saw several developments. Read this and more in R&WI's January 2018 issue.

AW169 Gendarmerie Argentina

Image courtesy of Leonardo

Leonardo's AW169, AW609


Leonardo announced its AW169 had been approved by the FAA in February — 19 months after the aircraft received EASA type certification. Already in counties besides the U.S., the AW169 had been selected elsewhere for air medical, offshore and VIP transport, as well as utility roles. It had certifications from Italian Civil Aviation Authority (ENAC), from EASA for its Level D full-flight simulator and for an increased maximum gross weight kit, and from Brazil’s National Civil Aviation Agency (ANAC).

Leonardo’s AW609 was able to perform flight tests, allowing for the full testing of avionics and other systems, in February before the final investigation report came out in May. The tests followed several weeks of unrestrained ground testing. The program was, at that point, still on track for FAA certification in 2018. Icing trials and short takeoff and landing tests (STOL) are the next steps.

Bell Helicopter 505 purple

Photo courtesy of Bell Helicopter

Bell Helicopter 505, 525

Bell’s 505 Jet Ranger X racked up the certifications in 2017. It collected certifications from EASA and Argentina's aviation body, Administracion Nacional de Aviacion Civil,certification in November. This added to the list that already included the FAA, Transport Canada and aviation authorities from Australia, Chile, Guatemala, Indonesia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, South Korea, Argentina and, most recently, Japan.

Bell is selling 505s by the dozens, with a Chinese customer set to be the largest buyer. Reignwood International Investment Group Company Ltd., which had been set to own the most 505 Jet Ranger Xs in the world since March, has purchased 50 more in a November announcement. Bell said the company also agreed to act as the exclusive reseller for the 505 in China and establish a 505 delivery and maintenance center. Now, Reignwood is set to own 110 505s.

For everything the Bell 525 program has been through and is still going through, the manufacturer got the program back in the air in 2017. In July, Bell announced the FAA had renewed the fly-by-wire aircraft’s experimental type certificate and flight testing had resumed. Certification is still planned for 2018.

Photo by S. Kervella, courtesy of Airbus Helicopters

Photo courtesy of Airbus Helicopters

Airbus Helicopters H160

Airbus' third H160 prototype, PT3, completed its maiden flight in October. Airbus said the first two prototypes have accumulated more than 500 flight hours since the model’s first flight in June 2015. The flight envelope has already been fully tested and the domain has been opened.

Remaining development activity includes hot weather testing, antennas and optional equipment. Those tests are to be completed using all prototypes. The aircraft is expected to enter into service in 2019. The first version to enter is to feature a passenger transport configuration, for either commercial transport or oil and gas. Following would be the EMS version.

Russia's Mi-171A2

Russian Mi-171A2

Russian Mi-171A2. Image courtesy of Russian Helicopters

In August, Russia's Federal Air Transport Agency issued a type certificate for Russian Helicopters’ Mi-171A2, clearing the way for that manufacturer to begin serial production and delivery of the IFR-capable, medium, utility helicopter to commercial customers.

The aircraft is a modernized version of the Mi-8/Mi-17 whose design aims to adhere to modern civil airworthiness standards, reduce operating costs and improve performance. Its many upgrades include a new-design main rotor system with all-composite blades and a more efficient X-shape tail rotor. Russian Helicopters said in December it had begun flight testing its modernized Mi-171E. Those tests were slated for completion before the end of the year.

China's AC312E

It was reported at the end of November that the Aviation Industry Corp. of China (AVIC) AC312E completed its first “plateau flight test." News reports said the AC312E is China’s “first” four-ton, dual-use, lightweight domestic civil helicopter. It is a variant of the Harbin Z-2, which is based on the Eurocopter AS365, and took its first flight in August 2016. AVIC expects to receive airworthiness certification next year.

Enstrom TH180

Photo courtesy of Enstrom

Enstrom's TH-180

At this time, Enstrom’s plan to certificate its TH-180 before 2017’s end had not yet come to fruition. In June, the company said the program is on track to do so, however. It has two prototypes in the certification program: one in flight test and the other engaging in ground tests.

Along with its ownership in China, Enstrom was, at that point, finalizing the design, based on results from the developmental flight test program. Test plans are progressing to completion and would then be submitted to the FAA for approval. Enstrom is working with both the FAA and EASA for concurrent certification. Certification was originally planned for 2016, but was delayed when the No. 1 prototype was damaged during an accident.

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