Bell Fly-By-Wire 525 Crash Prompts Expanded NTSB Probe
Investigators in the U.S. are culling a wealth of data, including telemetry and eyewitness accounts, for clues as to why a Bell Helicopter 525 prototype disintegrated in flight.
The distribution of wreckage near Italy, Texas, indicates the aircraft broke up in midair around midday July 6. In addition to the aft tailboom and empennage (found 1,500 ft from the main field of heavily burnt wreckage), pieces of shattered main rotor blades were found separated from the main wreckage of the super-medium twin.
The crash killed Bell experimental test pilots Jason Grogan and Erik Boyce, both former U.S. Marine Corps aviators.
The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board launched a “mini GO team” of six investigators from its Washington, D.C., headquarters. Single investigators normally work helicopter accidents, but this crash of the prototype is what Bell has described as the first commercial helicopter using all fly-by-wire flight controls. It also came amid Italy’s investigation of the Oct. 30, 2015, crash of a Leonardo Helicopters AW609 (which the NTSB is supporting). That probe is focusing in part of what role idiosyncrasies in that civil tiltrotor’s flight control software played in the crash. The coincidence of the crashes may present an opportunity for the NTSB to examine how flight-control software for rotorcraft is designed, tested and certificated.
The No. 1 525 prototype was transmitting telemetry to its launch point at Bell’s Xworx research center at Arlington, Texas, Municipal Airport during the flight that ended with its crash about 30 nm south-southwest of that facility. It also was being followed by a chase helicopter with two Bell pilots aboard.
Investigators are assessing telemetry data from the accident flight and previous 525 flight tests. The NTSB retrieved a flight test recorder from the wreckage and sent to its Washington recorder lab for readout; it described the recorder as being in good condition.
Investigators also have interviewed the chase pilots, according to officials familiar with the probe, who said the chase crew recorded no video of the accident flight.
Bell had been working toward certification and first deliveries of the 525 next year. R&WI
Vet Receives Medal of Honor For Vietnam Action
A U.S. veteran of the Vietnam War received the Medal of Honor almost five decades later in a ceremony at the White House July 18.
Retired U.S. Army Lt. Col. Charles Kettles has been credited with saving 44 lives on May 15, 1967, serving as a helicopter commander in the 176th Aviation Company, 14th Combat Aviation Battalion, Americal Division in Duc Pho, South Vietnam.
That day, a North Vietnamese enemy force ambushed soldiers of the 1st Brigade, 101st Airborne Division. Kettles volunteered to lead six Bell Helicopter UH-1Ds to carry reinforcements to the site and evacuate the wounded. The aircraft came under fire, killing many of the soldiers who were trying to evacuate the area.
Kettles refused to leave until all wounded personnel had been loaded onto the helicopters. He even returned without guns or crew to rescue eight more soldiers who had been left behind.
“He volunteered his Hueys even though he knew the dangers,” said President Obama. “None of them had seen fire that intense.”
Kettles received the second-highest Army honor, the Distinguished Service Cross, for his actions that day. But one volunteer for the Veterans History Project, Willian Vollano, who was charged with assembling a record of oral accounts from formal service members, thought he deserved more.
With the help of Congress, which waived a requirement that Medal of Honor recommendations be made within three years, Kettles finally received his award.
In addition to the Distinguished Service Cross, Kettles received 27 air medals. R&WI
Bristow to Begin SAR Service in Nigeria
Bristow Helicopters’ Nigeria business unit established a new helicopter rescue and recovery service for that nation’s oil and gas industry.
That service is expected to launch operations this month and will be based in southern Nigeria at Port Harcourt. It will use a Leonardo AW139, equipped for search and rescue missions with forward-looking infrared camera technology, a dual hoist and mission management capabilities.
Bristow said it plans to add service from Lagos once a second AW139 is ready by the end of this year. R&WI
US Army Supports Quake Exercise
Industry Reps Blast FAA Barrier Filter Policy
Representatives of at least 10 helicopter firms told the FAA last month that proposed stricter guidelines for certification of inlet barrier filters are unneeded and would hike costs and hurt safety for rotorcraft flying in dirty, dusty environments.
As an example, AAR Airlift told FAA officials at a July 7 meeting in Fort Worth, Texas, that inlet barrier filters (IBFs) cut down on foreign object damage, over-temperature incidents and compressor stalls on engines on its aircraft flying in the Central African Republic and Niger.
Palm Bay, Florida-headquartered AAR Airlift, which operates medium and heavy helicopters around the world, cited 35 instances of unscheduled removals of engines unprotected by IBFs. It estimated that each incident cost the company $200,000 for maintenance and repair. In some cases, engines were removed after fewer than 60 running hours; one was pulled after 38.1 hr.
IBFs are designed to keep dirt, dust, sand, foreign objects and other contaminants from entering a helicopter engine. They can provide greater protection than traditional particle separator/inertial separator systems or foreign object debris (FOD) screens.
The FAA called the meeting to hear comments on the proposed policy, PS-ASW-37/29-07. It said that proposal is intended to fix a long-standing shortcoming in rotorcraft airworthiness standards and certification guidance, arguing that material does not specifically address IBF installations.
Critics of the policy, which has been in development for years, argue the track record of IBFs is proof that no changes are needed. IBF makers Aerometals and Donaldson Aerospace argue that IBFs have been installed on 7,000 helicopters that have accumulated 20 million flight hours collectively with no accidents attributed to them. The new policy would make development of new IBFs too difficult and costly for businesses to pursue.
Attendees at the meeting included representatives of Aerometals and Donaldson; helicopter manufacturers Bell Helicopter, Marenco Swisshelicopter and Sikorsky; AAR Airlift and another operator, Mountain Air Helicopters of Los Lunas, New Mexico; maintenance and support shops AeroBrigham of Decatur, Texas, and Advanced Helicopter Services of Woodland, California; and several other speakers. Aerometals President Rex Kamphefner said the proposed policy would “harm the safety of every pilot out there by not letting them have IBFs.” R&WI
PZL Mielec Delivers Prototype For Turkish Utility Helo Program
Sikorsky in late June accepted a prototype aircraft destined to be the engineering development testbed for the Turkish Utility Helicopter Program just two weeks after Turkey signed contracts to start work on that program.
Sikorsky subsidiary PZL Mielec in Poland built the prototype T70. Delivered June 22, it is based on the S-70i International Black Hawk. Mielic added a rescue hoist, international auxiliary fuel tank, cargo hook, integrated vehicle health management system, a blade de-icing system and a rotor brake.
In 2017, Sikorsky is to fly the prototype to Ankara, Turkey, for testing of a new avionics suite being developed by it and Turkish defense electronic firm Aselsan. Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI) is the prime contractor on the program. According to Sikorsky, TAI has a license to build and deliver 109 T70s for Turkey’s Land Forces, Air Forces, Gendarmerie, National Police, Special Forces Command and its Director of General Forestry. TAI also has options to build 191 more T70s, Sikorsky said.
The first Turkish T70 aircraft is expected to be certified and delivered to the Turkish government by 2021. R&WI
Leonardo to Resume AW609 Flight Tests
Leonardo Helicopters will restart AW609 flight tests that it suspended voluntarily after the Oct. 30, 2015, crash of the No. 2 prototype, R&WI has learned.
Though certification will slip from Leonardo’s target of next year, CEO Mauro Moretti said the company doesn’t believe it will delay first deliveries of the civil tiltrotor to customers.
The No. 2 prototype crashed in October after breaking up in midair during high-speed tests southwest of Leonardo’s Italian headquarters in Cascina Costa. Italy’s ANSV accident investigation agency late last month said it is assessing what role an unexpected feature of the AW609’s high-speed flight-control software played in a prototype’s fatal October in-flight breakup in Italy.
When the aircraft broke up, the flight crew was attempting a third dive to the AW609’s maximum dive speed of 293 kt indicated airspeed (KIAS) with a new aft fuselage and empennage configuration. The ANSV said the aircraft’s “behavior at high speed was not completely predicted by the manufacturer” in a June 23 preliminary report.
The manufacturer also is assembling a fourth flight test aircraft at its facility in Philadelphia, with plans for it to enter flight tests next year. R&WI
Florida Naval Center toSupport MH-60S Seahawks
Bell Names New Engineering Head
Bell Helicopter has named its former head of commercial business to lead its engineering organization and innovation initiatives.
The manufacturer said Matt Hasik now serves as EVP for Technology and Innovation and is a member of Bell Helicopter’s Executive Leadership Team. He is responsible for leading the company’s “core engineering team and providing strategic direction for designing, developing and integrating technologies for use” in current and next-generation products, Bell said.
The engineering team had been led by Cathy Kilmain, who was the EVP of Engineering.
In his previous position of EVP of Commercial Business, Hasik led the sales, marketing and product development strategy for Bell’s commercial products. His responsibilities included overseeing program execution of the 525 Relentless and 505 Jet Ranger X programs and product upgrades.
Hasik joined Bell in 2006 and has served in a variety of leadership roles in its engineering and manufacturing organizations. In 2012, he was named V-22 program manager; he previously has served as V-22 program chief engineer. He later led the design and development team for the 525’s rotor and drive systems.
Before joining Bell, Hasik served in the U.S. Navy in a variety of roles, including as a “waterfront” program manager for the four-year, $4 billion refueling and overhaul of the nuclear powerplant complex on aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN-69). R&WI
AW169 Sim Gets Italian, Euro Certifications
Leonardo-Finmeccanica’s first Level D full-flight simulator for the new AW169 has received ENAC (Italian Civil Aviation Authority) and EASA certification, the company announced at Farnborough.
The simulator, jointly developed with CAE, is based at the Leonardo Training Academy in Sesto Calende, Italy. It features mission training, including offshore, law enforcement and private operations.
The event marks the first ever implementation of the EASA operational suitability data process for helicopters, per the new authority’s requirements issued in January 2014. Those requirements mandate that aircraft manufacturers submit data EASA considers important for safe operations.
The training academy is now the first simulation training center to feature the entire family of Level D full-flight simulators, including the AW139 and the AW189 models. R&WI
Kaman to Start Work on Peru SH-2G Upgrades
Kaman is starting work to remanufacture and upgrade four SH-2Gs for Peru’s navy following receipt of a $39.8 million contract, the company said today at the Farnborough Air Show.
Kaman Aerosystems Air Vehicles and its MRO division secured the contract from General Dynamics Mission Systems—Canada, the project’s lead contractor. Kaman said it already had realized sales of $10.6 million through April 1 from the program.
The contract starts the implementation phase of the program, which began with a preliminary design effort in 2014. In the new phase, which is to last through 2018, Kaman will remanufacture and upgrade the Peruvian Super Seasprites at its Bloomfield, Connecticut, facility. The work also will involve the company’s Jacksonville, Florida, manufacturing operation and its Everett, Washington, engineering organization.
Kaman also has restarted production of its medium-lift K-MAX; it expects to deliver the first of those new-build helicopters early next year.
Under the Peru program, a total of five SH-2Gs are to be transferred to that nation’s national defense ministry. In addition to serving as the lead contractor, General Dynamics Mission Systems is to provide the aircraft’s integrated mission system.
The SH-2G is a multi-mission maritime weapon system designed to fulfill missions that include anti-submarine warfare and anti-surface warfare, over-the-horizon targeting, surveillance, troop transport, vertical replenishment, search and rescue and utility work. The SH-2G Super Seasprite is currently operated by the Royal New Zealand Navy, the Egyptian air force and the Polish navy.
The program will “provide advanced maritime, search and rescue, and surveillance capabilities to the Peruvian Navy,” said Drake Klotzman, general manager of the Kaman division, which he said is “very pleased to be working with General Dynamics Mission Systems—Canada.”
The Super Seasprite helicopter “is well suited for the needs of the Peruvian Navy and we look forward to providing remanufactured and upgraded aircraft for the nation’s long-term defense requirements,” said the General Dynamics unit’s VP of air and naval systems, Brian Fava. R&WI
LifeFlight of Maine Gets EMS GrandNew
Leonardo-Finmeccanica has sold three GrandNew EMS helicopters to LifeFlight of Maine. The aircraft will transition into a mixed fleet of aircraft to deliver care and to transport patients.
The helicopters are equipped with a comprehensive EMS interior and will feature night-vision goggle compatibility. The first will enter service this year; the others in 2017 and 2018.
LifeFlight of Maine Executive Director Tom Judge said the new aircraft will extend the service’s range and capacity.
The sale represents the growing share of AgustaWestland helicopters in the North American EMS market, which now totals 115 across a fleet of AW119s, AW109s, and AW139s. The GrandNew also recently has been placed in other countries, including Japan, the U.K. and Turkey. R&WI
Boeing, UK Army Ink Deal For 50 Apaches
Boeing will deliver 50 AH-64E Apaches to the British Army, an agreement that could lead to potential long-term support opportunities.
David Pitchforth, VP and managing director of Boeing Defence U.K. Limited, said: “This is not only a major boost to the British Army, but it will also mean long-term, sustained jobs in the U.K. as the vast majority of the training, maintenance, repair and overhaul will be done here over the service life of the aircraft. We are working closely with our extensive U.K. supply chain, including Leonardo Finmeccanica Helicopters (Leonardo), to support initial operating capability of the aircraft in 2022.”
Boeing has a longstanding relationship with Leonardo on the existing Apache program.
Boeing will support U.K. prosperity through increasing spend with U.K. suppliers and is in advanced discussions with Leonardo on the AH-64E contract and other opportunities. R&WI
Sikorsky Signs S-92 Support Deals
Sikorsky has signed two 10-yr support deals with Babcock Mission Critical Services and Bristow Helicopters at Farnborough Air Show this week. The agreements call for Sikorsky to provide the operators’ S-92 fleets with extended support for its aftermarket materials.
Babcock currently operates a fleet of more than 20 Sikorsky aircraft in the North Sea, Western Australia and Spain. It recently received two S-92s for offshore transport in the North Sea.
Bristow operates 160 Sikorsky helicopters, which include S-92s servicing Europe Caspian, Africa, Asia Pacific, the Americas and the U.K.
The entire S-92 global fleet recently surpassed a million-flight-hour milestone. R&WI
Airbus, Mahindra to ProduceAS656 MBe Panther Parts in India
Airbus Helicopters awarded a contract to Mahindra Aerostructures to make airframe parts for the AS565 MBe Panther. The companies formally signed the agreement at Farnborough.
The parts will be produced at the Mahindra facility in Bengaluru, India, and shipped directly to Airbus’ Marignane, France, facility.
This marks India’s first company to receive a direct manufacturing contract from Airbus at a Tier 1 supplier. “We are playing an active role in the development of a helicopter-focused Indian industrial ecosystem,” said Airbus’ Make in India” director, Fabrice Cagnat.
The two companies are in the process of entering a joint venture to create products for India’s military helicopter program, including the naval utility helicopter, the naval multirole helicopter and the reconnaissance and surveillance helicopter. (The AS565 MBe Panther is competing in the naval program). Should India select the Panther, Airbus will establish India has the hub for production of the aircraft. R&WI
Lockheed Martin Debuts Armed Black Hawk
Lockheed Martin unveiled its European-built Black Hawk at Farnborough. The multirole aircraft displayed the types of weapons that can be integrated into it.
Armed external wings featured four weapons stations with launchers for a mix of air-to-ground missiles, a 19-shot Hydra-70 rocket pod and a Belgian FN HERSTAL rocket machine gun pod.
The aircraft’s cockpit chin also featured Lockheed Martin’s INFIRNO sensor system for laser designating of a future weapons system and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions. R&WI