Rotor & Wing International

Rotorcraft Report

Leonardo’s AW609 is making progress on its track toward a 2018 FAA certification, and more.

Leonardo’s AW609 is making progress on its track toward a 2018 FAA approval — a finish line that its AW169 recently crossed.

AW169 deliveries can now begin in the U.S., the manufacturer said, thanks to the FAA’s validation of the type certificate. EASA issued that certificate 19 months ago.

The AW169 holds other aviation authority certifications, including one from the Italian Civil Aviation Authority (ENAC), EASA certifications for its Level D full-flight simulator and an increased-maximum-gross-weight kit, and a type certification from Brazil’s National Civil Aviation Agency (ANAC).

An aircraft that has also been slow in progress, the AW609 recently performed additional flight tests, Leonardo said. Full testing of avionics and other systems was completed. This follows several weeks of unrestrained ground testing. Still on track for FAA certification in 2018, the civil tiltrotor’s next steps are icing trials and short takeoff and landing tests (STOL).

The aircraft’s third prototype, based at Leonardo’s facility in Philadelphia, performed basic hovering, maneuvering, patterns and hover landing tests. Leonardo has planned additional flight tests up to altitudes of 4,000 feet, with STOL in the near future. Icing trials are to take place throughout the winter in Marquette, Michigan. The fourth prototype has made its way to the Philadelphia assembly line, paving the way to a production-build aircraft planned for next year.

The AW169 is a light intermediate, twin-engine helicopter. New technology features have been incorporated in the rotor system, engines, avionics, transmission and electric power generation and distribution systems.

Leonardo is targeting VIP transport and emergency medical service (EMS) market segments for its new helicopter. Although it’s not yet in service in the U.S., it has been selected elsewhere for air medical, offshore and VIP transport, as well as utility roles.

Agreements for orders and options on more than 150 units have been signed worldwide, and 20 have been delivered to date. R&WI

FAA Drone Advisory Committee Quiet in Early Stages

The FAA’s Drone Advisory Committee has had two meetings to date: an inaugural one last September in Washington, D.C., and one in January in Reno, Nevada. Intel CEO Brian Krzanich is the chair, with membership made up of avionics, airline, drone airframe and other professionals.

Professional Helicopter Pilots Assn. (PHPA) President Steven Rush and Helicopter Assn. International (HAI) President and CEO Matt Zuccaro are the representatives for the helicopter community among the 35 or so total members.

So far, the committee has managed to give direction to two out of three task groups, which are divisions of the main panel’s subcommittee. The subcommittee is where all the real work happens.

The subcommittee is co-chaired by Nancy Egan of 3D Robotics, who sits on the main panel, and Bryan Quigley of United Airlines, who is not on the main roster. Egan said the subcommittee does not hold public meetings, which may allow it to complete tasks swiftly. Several subcommittee meetings already have been held.

Task Group 1 is concerned with federal, state and local governments. Task Group 2 is concerned with access to airspace. Task Group 3 is concerned with financing, but was instructed by the main committee to rewrite its tasking statement. Its direction has yet to be approved.

Rush and Zuccaro both have representatives from their respective associations on the subcommittee and task groups. But it is not required that a subcommittee member have corporate representation on the main committee.

R&WI attended the second meeting in Reno, which commenced with a room full of unmanned aerial system stakeholders. Members of the subcommittee made up a large portion of noncommittee-member attendees. Drone operators, executive consultants and other stakeholders who wished to observe were also present.

The Reno meeting clipped along at a relatively fast past. That was due, in part, to the lack of comments and questions from committee members and other observers. At the committee’s early stages, few seemed willing to give away any positions. As the committee progresses and starts to discuss tangible recommendations, it might be expected that more members start protecting their respective company’s interests.

The Drone Advisory Committee does not have another meeting scheduled until May 3, but HAI’s Heli-Expo could present further drone discussion. The association has sought greater drone presence at its event, including exhibitors and in the events schedule. Heli-Expo’s preliminary schedule has slated six such events. R&WI

Intel Quadcopters Rock US Super Bowl

Intel Corp. lit up the Houston sky, with 300 drones providing the backdrop for singer Lady Gaga as part of the halftime show at the Feb. 5 American football Super Bowl. The pre-recorded video shoot that was broadcast to Super Bowl television viewers had been kept secret until the game’s midpoint. The FAA waived Part 107 regulations concerning daylight operation and operation of multiple small unmanned aircraft for the filming. The Shooting Star drone used is a quadcopter featuring splash-proof rotor cages. It weighs less than a volleyball at 0.6 pounds (280 grams). With a 20-minute maximum flight duration, the drone features built-in LED lights. Intel’s software and animation interface allows it to create shows in a matter of days and can automate the light-show creation process by calculating the number of drones needed. R&WI

Lady Gaga performing among 300 Intel quadcopter drones at the Super Bowl halftime show.Photo courtesy of Intel

SAE Move Might Help Resolve IBF Dispute

A new SAE effort, requested by the FAA, could help bridge the divide between that agency and equipment manufacturers (and their customers) over how to best demonstrate the safety of engine inlet barrier filters (IBFs) on helicopters.

The dispute over proposed FAA changes to certification practices for inlet barrier filters has stalled approval for most new installations of the devices for nearly a year. It has had a major impact on businesses of Aerometals and Donaldson Aerospace, two main IBF makers.

“Instead of the FAA coming up with a policy and then us having to fight against it, this is an opportunity for the FAA and industry to sit at the same table and hammer it out,” said Lorie Symon, executive director of El Dorado, California-based Aerometals. “It’s no longer just the IBF manufacturers that are part of this.”

About two dozen individuals have answered SAE’s Jan. 9 call for subject matter experts to join two standing committees newly tasked with finding ways to verify that the installation of IBFs do not degrade the performance of helicopters or the engines for which they are installed. SAE’s liaison on the project, Aerospace Standards Engineer Laura Feix, told R&WI respondents include representatives of the major rotorcraft manufacturers and (to date) all but one helicopter engine maker, as well as the IBF companies and helicopter operators.

“We’ll be meeting with people that build engines for a living, and people that actually fly the aircraft and probably have the best perspective on what’s safe,” said Matt Fortuna, general manager of Global Aerospace & Defense at Donaldson. “The users, operators and equipment manufacturers will have a good perspective on what they need to be using on their aircraft.”

The international engineering standards organization held a Feb. 15 online meeting of committee members to launch the work. A follow-up, face-to-face meeting is planned for the afternoon of March 9 during Heli-Expo in Dallas. The main panel charged with the work is the S-12 Helicopter Powerplant Committee; it is to receive input from the S-16 Turbine Engine Inlet Flow Distortion Committee. R&WI

Airbus Vows to Raise Safety Bar, Leverage Digital Systems

The fatal April 2016 crash of a Super Puma in Norway has left Airbus Helicopters committed to raising the safety bar for itself and the industry, in part by making greater use of digital data from flight operations, the company’s CEO said.

The accident was a shock “for all the industry, for Airbus, for me and increased my resolve, as well as the company’s, to collectively raise the bar in safety for us, for the industry,” CEO Guillaume Faury told R&WI. “We see digital enabling new safety standards.”

On April 29, 2016, the CHC Helikopter Service EC225LP crashed on approach to Bergen, Norway, after its main rotor separated from the aircraft on a return flight from a North Sea rig. The crash killed all 11 passengers and the two pilots on board. A probe led by the Accident Investigation Board of Norway is months away from concluding. But investigators have said the most likely cause of the main rotor separation was fatigue cracking that caused a second-stage planet gear to disintegrate and rip the main gearbox apart.

The accident led to the worldwide grounding of EC225LPs and AS332L2s in the Super Puma family in June. EASA lifted the grounding last October, and the FAA followed suit. But the civil aviation authorities in the U.K. and Norway have left the grounding orders in place. Airbus is working with those authorities “to restore the confidence in the products and ensure a smooth and full return to service when the time comes in the North Sea,” Faury said.

“Since the accident, we are reviewing many things directly or indirectly linked to the accident,” he added. “We are reviewing the way we work and the way the industry is working as well. Unfortunately it’s not the single accident that took place in 2016. The industry has been affected by a series of incidents and accidents.”

“We don’t want to solve the problem [with the H225] and move forward,” the CEO said. “We want to use this crisis to re-challenge as much as we can and go out of the crisis being much stronger, much better in the way we deliver safety for this industry.” R&WI

NASA to Test Tiltrotor Test Rig at NFAC Wind Tunnel

Photo courtesy of NASA

NASA is developing tiltrotors and is currently installing a place to test them, the U.S. government organization said. Named the Tiltrotor Test Rig, or TTR, the apparatus is due for testing in February at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley, California. The test rig is a large tilting mechanism on which NASA can attach rotor blades. It can then be put in a wind tunnel for testing. Since the rig is so large, and the rotor blades add to the overall size, the first test is set to take place at the National Full-Scale Aerodynamics Complex (NFAC), which NASA touts as the biggest wind tunnel in the world. When fully functional, the test rig should be able to support rotors up to 26 ft in diameter, capable of reaching 345 mph.

During the first test, the main goal is to give the rig a try. It will be the first time the system will be completely assembled and operated. Any anomalies spotted will be noted. Should the rig pass all testing, it is expected to participate in general aerodynamics research. R&WI

First-Production 505 Lands At Bell Academy to Start Customer Training

The first-production Bell Helicopter 505 Jet Ranger X arrived at the OEM’s training academy Tuesday afternoon, paving the way for check out of instructors there in the aircraft and training of the first customers for that light, single-engine aircraft.

Bell plans the first customer delivery at Heli-Expo in Dallas this month. It has scheduled a production rollout ceremony for Thursday at the Bell Helicopter Textron Canada manufacturing site in Mirabel, Québec. That facility expects to get a Transport Canada production certificate no later than Thursday.

Transport Canada issued type certificate H-112 for the 505 late last year. The associated type certificate data sheet, dated Dec. 19, 2016, lists the maximum weight of the basic, five-seat aircraft as 3,680 lb (internal loading) and its never-exceed speed at 135 kt indicated airspeed.

Tail number C-FUPD landed at Bell Training Academy’s flight line mid-afternoon Feb. 7 after a wind-and-weather slowed flight from the company’s customization facility in Piney Flats, Tennessee (the former Edwards and Associates operation). The crew at Piney Flats completed configuration of the aircraft, which is painted in purple with a broad and a narrow white stripe at the top of the mid-body.

Bell said the second-production 505 (and first customer version) is in Mirabel for Thursday’s ceremony. R&WI

US Marine Corps to Standardize 77-Variant Osprey Fleet

There are 77 different variants among the 263 Bell Boeing MV-22 Ospreys in service with the U.S. Marine Corps, according to Deputy Commandant for Aviation Lt. Gen. Jon Davis. To combat that complexity, the Marine Corps is set to launch the Common Configuration Reliability and Maintainability Initiative (CCRaM).

This would involve the reconfiguring the aircraft to a common variant by the Marine Corps and the manufacturers.

As reported by Defense Daily, the information about the many configurations was disclosed during a recent Independent Range Review (IRR). Ospreys have been in such high demand that any modifications needed post-production were being applied to aircraft right off the line. This means one of every four MV-22s flying with the USMC varies in configuration. It also means that performing any maintenance, repair and overhaul can be cumbersome.

“That makes it hard to get the right parts for it,” Davis said. “It makes it hard to maintain for our Marines and Air Force personnel … Right now you’ve got a Marine going out with a computer and … it could be one of 77 different combinations of parts and repair protocols, which is really not good.”

The standardization initiative calls for reconfiguration as the aircraft proceed through scheduled depot maintenance, which is supposed to happen in the order of oldest aircraft to youngest.

Once reset to a baseline configuration, each Osprey is to receive reliability and lethality upgrades. That would include new nose-mounted forward-looking infrared (FLIR) sensors, which the Marines plans to tender. A redesigned rotor nacelle is also on the list of upgrades.

Twenty-four aircraft each year is the target for aircraft upgrades; the first two are set to be standardized this year. R&WI