Rotor & Wing International

Making Connections

Most aircraft are essentially very complex connectors. Increasingly, the aircraft themselves are also becoming more connected.

Most aircraft, if you boil the concept very far down, are essentially very complex connectors. Increasingly, as they transport people from one place to another, the aircraft themselves are becoming more connected.

Aside from voice and data communication in flight, which is a fairly old trick, technologies now keep tabs on nearly every element of helicopters, which in turn is making them safer, more reliable and easier to maintain.

Take the example in our cover story of a main gearbox bearing that was on its way to failure. RMCI's state-of-the-art health and usage monitoring system (HUMS) predicted the bearing would fail 100 flight hours before the part elicited a warning to the pilot.

That saved the unnamed fire department several hundred thousand dollars and potentially the pilot's and crews’ lives. RMCI President and Founder Ken Speaks doesn't like to say that his company will definitely save your life, but theirs and similar technology is doing just that. The U.S. Army has employed the company to support HUMS on more than 3,000 of its helicopters.

HeliOffshore is taking a similar tack with its operators, using HUMS and flight data management systems to create in a few years a database of information that it took the airline industry a decade to establish. Both companies share the goal of eliminating or at least dramatically reducing the number of return-to-base and precautionary landing events. Francois Lassale, operations director for HeliOffshore, tells R&WI that the system is delivering huge benefits in efficiency and safety for its operators.

Monitoring the health of aircraft components and fixing them before they break will become even more important when and if the sky fills up with air taxis. Though the reality of on-demand urban air mobility is still years in the offing, electric and hybrid propulsion systems are emerging and finding use on traditional helicopters. Frank Wolfe explores how electric engines are gaining ground in the traditional rotorcraft market, which will continue its role of connecting people long into the future.

In June, the aerospace world will converge and descend on Paris for the city’s biannual air show. Our European correspondent Eugene Gerden takes a look at the continent’s military rotorcraft market amid NATO's effort to modernize. Significant spending is occurring to shore up NATO's helicopters against a revanchist Russia, while all eyes are on the U.S. Army's efforts to radically transform helicopter technology with its ongoing Future Vertical Lift (FVL) effort.

Finally, we have a story about how helicopters can save lives when all connections are lost. R&WI got the chance to visit the U.S. Virgin Islands and fly with Maria Rodriguez, owner of Caribbean Buzz, a tour operation based on St. Thomas. In 2017, that island and Rodriguez's home were hammered by two monster hurricanes that left the islands in near-ruin and all but cutoff from the outside world. She shared with us the story of how, for weeks, she connected people with the safety and supplies that would not have otherwise reached them. For her flying, Rodriguez was the 2018 Helicopter Association International pilot of the year.

It's a pleasure to connect you with these stories. Find more online daily at Fair skies.