Heli-Expo 2000 Special Report: Growing Places? Helicopter Community Hovers in Best Times in Years

Beyond the doors at the Las Vegas Convention Center last week, word of new ships, new supporting products, new upgrades, and something approaching new prosperity awaited the rotorcraft industry. On Thursday, AVweb scratched the surface of Heli-Expo 2000; today, we go deeper into HAI's most-successful, best-attended convention ever and farther into the outlooks for the future that help keep those grins at their widest. AVweb's special coverage of Heli-Expo 2000 is accompanied by a collection of exclusive images from the exhibit floor.


IFR Rules, New Ships Bode Well; Noise Issues, Neighbors Bedevil Potential

Heli-Expo LogoA week ago Friday, the FAA acknowledged that helicopters are, well, different.After years of wishing and hoping, lobbying and praying by the helicoptercommunity, the folks at 800 Independence took the "FAR"-reaching stepof publishing rules changes for IFR helicopter flights that lower fuel-reserverequirements and ceiling and visibility limits for IFR alternate airports andapproaches themselves. Talk about great timing. The Friday before the Mondayopening of the Helicopter Association International’s (HAI) 52nd annualconvention and trade show, Heli-Expo 2000. Theword spread quickly enough to buoy the attitudes of a record attendance as thenearly 14,000 delegates flowed into town over the weekend before the three-dayconvention. And beyond the doors at the Las Vegas Convention Center awaited moreto make the masses optimists: word of new ships, new supporting products, newupgrades, and something approaching new prosperity.

Sounds both familiar and refreshing, doesn’t it? Better times, steady salesgrowth, financial health, new blood? Think of an NBAA annual meeting andconvention in about one-sixth the floor space, with about one-third the crowd,but with the same professional polish shining as brightly as any of the 59gleaming helicopters in attendance, and you’ll get most of the picture. Or, getthe picture from our images of the event. Not a fixed-wing aircraft in sight,but smiles wingtip-to-wingtip.

On Thursday, AVweb scratched the surface of Heli-Expo 2000; today, we go deeperinto HAI’s most-successful, best-attended convention ever and farther into theoutlooks for the future that help keep those grins at their widest.

Forecast: Smooth Skies, Little Ceiling Variation — More Or Less

If you’re typical of most in aviation, you probably check more than one forecastbefore you launch. The HAI community should experience little difficultyplanning for the next few years with forecasts from three different sources:Rolls-Royce; Honeywell, nee AlliedSignal’s old engine division; and the folksat the Transportation Research Board. Interestingly enough, much like manyweather forecasts, the similarities stand out more than any differences. Forexample, all three outlooks see a plateau in 1999’s deliveries of 723helicopters, which is off 1998 levels from 801, and all three predict turbineand piston helicopter sales will hover in the same neighborhood. The differencesare in the details.

Rolls-Royce logoRolls-Royce: Stable And Steady…

 The maker of the Model 250 turboshaft engine popular among helicopter makersforecast deliveries of more than 9,000 new turbine helicopters through 2009 —including military ships — a 1-percent increase over the engine-maker’sprediction last year. But the outlook shows civil helicopter sales doing a slowslide from about 571 in 2001 toward an average of 530 per year for the restof the period, including a slight climb in the last two years of the forecast.Use, according to the outlook, will be slightly higher per year and perhelicopter, boding well for the operator and support communities alike.

…While Honeywell Sees Slow, Steady Growth In Its Crystal Ball…

Honeywell LogoWith the merger of AlliedSignal and Honeywell, HAI got a new player in thepredictions game, as the resulting Honeywell name went on the helicopterforecast generated previously by the engine division of AlliedSignal. And thesenumbers sounded the best of the three outlooks in play at HAI: 2.5-percentannual growth in sales of turbine helicopters in the coming five years. Thatcomes to 2,300 new turbines through 2004, at the bottom of the forecast, withthe curve climbing again the last five years of the outlook. Good as that maysound, though, it’s slightly smaller growth than predicted last year, when theold AlliedSignal forecast annual growth averaging 3 percent.

…And The TRB Takes The Down Note — And Even It’s Not Far Off

According to the Feds’ official transportation advisory panel, the TransportationResearch Board (TRB), turbinehelicopter sales will remain largely flat to down in the next five years, beforeedging upward again in the latter half of the forecast period to eventuallyexceed turbine deliveries logged last year. Similar to the other forecasters,the TRB also sees a slow increase in the average age of the fleet as operatorshold on longer to their existing equipment, a factor in the decline in new salesenvisioned.

Meanwhile, Suppliers Debuted Their New And New-And-Improved

Is there anything finer than the aroma of new-helicopter interior or the sheenof a shiny new stack? Maybe the anticipation of new things not yet available — but coming soon to helipad near you? Regardless of how you answer, Heli-Expo2000 delivered something to affirm your view. Here’s a quick rundown:

Agusta Grows Its Own…

Agusta-Bell AB139Thursday, AVweb told you about the limo-sized AB139 under development by Agustaand Bell; down the size scale a bit, Agusta is developing a growth version ofone of its own, successful designs, dubbed the A119 Koala. Basically, the A119swaps out two Rolls-Royce 250 turboshaft engines for a single Pratt &Whitney Canada PT6B-37, at 1,007 shp the largest powerplant ever installed in asingle-engine helicopter, according to PWC. The advantages, according to Agusta:more power, greater simplicity, enhanced economy.

…Sikorsky Grows With The Flow…

Sikorsky on displayWith 60 years of experience since founding father Igor invented the practicalhelicopter, Sikorsky Aircraft has played a dominant role in the community,through good times and bad. For the opening of Heli-Expo 2000, the news fromSikorsky comfortably fell into the "good" category as the companyannounced a launch customer for the huge new S-92 Helibus 19-seat transport.Under development by an international consortium that includes Embraer, Gamesa,Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, and others, the S-92 started flight tests inDecember 1998 and is on track for certification in 2001 and initial delivery in2002 to launch customer Cougar Helicopters, an offshore transport companyoperating in the Canadian Maritime provinces.

The Cougar environment actually seemed to excite Sikorsky execs, who lookforward to the operator flying the S-92 hard and putting it away wet, iced, andtired. But the big ship should be up to the task, with two GE CT7-8 turboshaftengines for power and the payload to fill all the seats and fly 400 nautical mileswith reserves at speeds to 155 knots. Sikorsky also landed an S-92 customer inVancouver-based Helijet Airways, which will fly the big ship in an air-carrierenvironment that last year moved more than 100,000 paying passengers.

…Eurocopter Keeps Wraps On EC-145…

A Eurocopter, but not the EC-145We’d like to show you some images of the joint project of Eurocopter andKawasaki Heavy Industries — but the developers didn’t show one at HAI, hasn’treleased photos, and generally kept information to a minimum. That’s some wrapon a program that started flight-testing in mid-1999. But from what could beskimmed from the booth at Heli-Expo 2000, the EC-145 looks much like a growthversion of the BK 117 jointly developed by Germany’s MBB, one of the partners inEurocopter, and Kawasaki. In the one piece of news released about the EC-145,the developers acknowledged the first order for the ship, a contract for 40 fromthe government of France, with deliveries beginning in 2001.

…Enstrom Plans Beefed-Up 480B…

Enstrom in Pasadena Police colorsFlight tests were already underway when Enstrom Helicopter announced the 480Bprogram at Heli-Expo 2000 and revealed that certification stands only a fewmonths away. The advance targeted by the program involves proving that the drivesystem is capable of handling more power from the same Rolls-Royce 250-C20Wturboshaft engine, and increasing its takeoff output some 6 percent to 306shaft horsepower, up from 289. Continuous output should increase 3 percentto 277 from 269. With the added power, Enstrom plans to certificate the 480Bwith a maximum gross weight of 3,000 pounds, up 5 percent and 150 pounds.

Production of the 480B will begin on the existing 480 line as soon as thecompany receives its FAR 27 approval from the FAA, expected this spring. Butwhat the final tab will be remained a question. As of Heli-Expo 2000, the 480was commanding $548,000, a price good enough to capture 42 sales since the shipwon certification five years ago.

…MD Helicopters Celebrates Survival…

MD 520Forty-nine weeks down, the future to go. That was much of the theme at MDHelicopter Inc.’s exhibit, where the former Boeing division, former McDonnellDouglas unit, originally Hughes company feted its first year as a unit of aEuropean holding company, RDM Holdings. Since the changeover last February, theresulting company has won production certification under its own name, andembarked on a series of price cuts to its product line, from the twin-turbineExplorer, the largest ship in the MDHI line, to the 500E, the only bird left inthe company’s product line that does not use the distinctive NOTAR anti-torquesystem on the tail.

The biggest downside to the changeover last year was a lag in spooling upproduction, resulting in deliveries of only 38 ships. The outlook for 2000, withproduction authority and additional staff on hand, is expected to beconsiderably higher en route to 100 delivered in 2001. An element in MDHI’s10-month rebound from transitional near-dormancy continues to be the company’sstill-exclusive NOTAR technology. But even the 500E is attracting interest,growth the company expects to translate into sales increases.

…While Robinson Celebrates Growth…

Robinson R44While most other manufacturers concentrated on their turbine-powered offerings,Torrance, Calif.-based Robinson Helicopters continues to make headlines with itsline of piston-powered light copters. In fact, the company says that 1999 as itsbest year ever. Now boasting a hydraulically-powered flight control system, thecompany’s R44 four-seat single became last year’s top-selling rotorcraft at 150units, and the highly-popular two-seat R22 came in a close second with 128copies going out the door. Recognizing the popularity of its products, thecompany intends to expand during 2000, with plans to increase it number ofemployees to 700 and secure a lease on land adjacent to its factory to constructa new building.

Among other achievements, the company says that the R44 hasformed the basis for a fractional ownership program based in Brazil and that thetime before overhaul of components will be increased. For all that success,Robinson says it will probably stick with what it knows and will likely notapply turbine technology to power its copters in the near future. Similarly, thecompany has no current plans to expand its product line beyond the R22 and R44,although it’s definitely looking for that next market niche. For now, Robinsonis more than content to rest on the laurels of its recent successes and broughtto Las Vegas three R44s outfitted in news gathering, executive transport and lawenforcement platforms, demonstrating the flexibility of its flagship product.

…From Russia, With Lift

KA-115Kamov continues to struggle uphill against the drag of development-fundshortages, but the maker of concentric-rotor helicopters certainly shows no lackof creativity and imagination. For example, there is the Ka-115 and the Ka-226,which share the manufacturer’s distinctive practice of designing concentric,counterotating main rotors — and no tail rotor — and the Ka-60/Ka-62 models,which sport a conventional rotor-and-tail rotor design uncharacteristic for thecompany. The Kamov designs also share in powerplants designed by Pratt &Whitney Canada and license-built by Russia’s own Klimov.

Of the three, only the Ka-115 has not yet flown. But all three are far behindthe development curve because of the funds situation. Farthest-along honors goto the Ka-226, which entered testing last fall. Development of the Ka-60/Ka-62designs — the former a military ship, the latter a civil bird — is proceedingslowly. And bringing up the, um, tail, is the Ka-115.

Frontiers In Flight?

One could buy just about anything for a copter on the Heli-Expo floor...Avionics, Autopilot Capabilities Keep Climbing…

Well, shake my collective. All the same advances corporate jets enjoy in panelequipment continue to flow into helicopters, from navigation, communication andpanel display systems, to flight-control systems for the finest in tactilefeedback and situational awareness.

Here’s a glimpse of why these aren’t our daddies’ rotorcraft, anymore.

…First Rotor-Wing Stick Shaker Shown At Heli-Expo…

Here’s a safety system that should win helicopter fans head over foot: a stickshaker designed to get your attention, and the nose down, before the big sinksets in. Credit this development to Safe Flight, the same folks who develop,make and supply stick shakers and other stall-warning devices to the fixed-wingworld. Of course, this one works a little differently because of helicopters’different source of lift. Instead of reacting to airspeed and angle-of-attackinputs, Safe Flight’s helicopter stick shaker alerts the pilot based on inputfrom four sensors standard on turbine-helicopter parameters: EGT, torque, anddecelerating speed of the main rotor or the engine turbine. The sensors forthese four sensors feed a computer that both tracks the parameters and activatesthe shaker.

And instead of connecting to the cyclic, sort of the equivalent of a yoke, thehelicopter stick shaker attaches to the collective. Further, the computer canalso track left rudder-pedal position and activate a second shaker to warn thatit’s near the left travel limit. Full up, Safe Flight’s system weighs aboutseven pounds and costs about $12,000. But the benefits are the same: improvedpilot awareness independent of looking at a gauge and more time with eyesoutside.

…Make My MFD: Honeywell Adapting IHAS To Helicopters…

Honeywell IHAS 8000When the IHAS 5000 and 8000 were announced at NBAA in Atlanta last October, thecompany behind the MFD went by the name AlliedSignal. Last week at Heli-Expo2000, the same systems were being touted for the helicopter market by thesuccessor name, Honeywell, making its first major show appearance sincecompleting the merger in December. But they’re still calling the brand nameBendix King, and it’s still the same integrated hazard awareness system — that’s where the "IHAS" comes from— that puts a navigation map,terrain, traffic, data-link and airborne weather on a single four-color cockpitdisplay.

IHAS is among the most-significant developments in years under the Bendix Kingbadge, and Honeywell’s embrace of the helicopter market is pretty much the firstsignificant move of the newly-merged company. When the system becomes fullyavailable later this year, IHAS could be the first of its type available forboth fixed- and rotor-wing aircraft.

The heart of the IHAS system is the processor that integrates information fromthe various sensors and routes the data to either the KMD 550 or KMD 850 colormultifunction display. The only significant difference between the 550 and 850is in the airborne weather it’s designed to process. The 850 works with airborneweather radar input, while the 550 works with input from a BFGoodrich Stormscopesensor. And if Honeywell succeeds in starting deliveries first, be sure of onething: the Bendix King IHAS system won’t be the last, for either aircraft type.

…Rockwell Collins Headed For S-92 Helibus Heavyweight

When Sikorsky delivers the first civil S-92 in 2002, the panel will be somethingnew from Rockwell Collins, an adaptation of the Pro Line 21 equipment alreadypopular in corporate aircraft. An open-architecture system designed for easyupgrading, the Pro Line 21 CNS system for Sikorsky sports the avionics maker’slatest global navigation and communications system linked to four colordisplays, with a fifth optional. The open-architecture approach also gives thesystem the flexibility to be upgraded to coming communications and air-trafficmanagement technologies.

Aviall Cheers The Big One, Its Exclusive Parts Deal With Rolls

Remember what Shakespeare had to say about names? The folks at Rolls-Roycecontinue to wrestle with an identity crisis concerning the Model 250 turboshaftengine so popular in the helicopter community. Five years after acquiring theAllison engine line, some in the community still haven’t adapted to calling the250 by its new name, the Rolls-Royce Model 250. But the folks at Rolls have noworries about delivering the parts the community needs after penning anexclusive 10-year deal for Aviall to handle global distribution of 250components. Worth a hefty $900 million to Aviall, the contract allows Rolls totake advantage of the world’s largest independent network for aircraft-partsdelivery, warehousing and management. Could be, according to Aviall, the largestsuch contract ever inked between an OEM and an independent distributor.

The Ripple Effect Through The Eye Of The S-92

Makers of engines and avionics always look forward to new designs because thoseprograms represent new work, but they’re not the only ones. Take FlightSafetyInternational, for example. Known globally for its aviation and maritimetraining programs, FSI announced plans to develop a simulator for the S-92,which follows the recent addition of another high-tech training device forSikorsky’s S-76C. And Taiwan’s Aerospace Industry Association, the AIDC, workedto leverage its contribution to the S-92 into more work. Part of Taiwan’s expertisecomes from building the cockpit section of the S-92, a sign of its internationalexperience.

Fractionals Forge Forward In Helicopters, Too

If this idea spreads far enough, it just could revive a vehicle to replaceflying clubs as a way to own only as much aircraft as you need or can afford.The idea is fractional ownership, the time-share system for business jetsinvented more than a decade ago by Executive Jet Aviation. In recent years,fractional ownership plans have grown up and down — with large manufacturersand small entrepreneurs launching for everything from BBJs to King Airs. And nowthey’ve come to the helicopter community, too.

Sikorsky Shares, for example, launched last year and at Heli-Expo 2000 boastedof selling an undisclosed number of shares in three S-76 models operating in thenortheast region from a base at Duchess County Airport in New York. Down in theheart of Texas, HeliFlite Shares LLC can begin operating the brand-new 430 thatBell Helicopter delivered during Heli-Expo 2000. Nothing like a new spin on aproven idea to help grow the general aviation community.

"Hush," Is The Word For Whisper Jet; The Question Is, Will It BeEnough?

WhisperJetAmazing what a half-dozen years, $10 million and desire can produce. For EllingHalvorson, chairman of Papillon Grand Canyon Helicopters, the result of thatrecipe — a Sikorksy S-55 converted into the first Whisper Jet helicopter —flew into Las Vegas with less notice than most. Developed by Halvorson andFlorida R&D firm Vertical Aviation Technology, the Whisper Jet sports fiverotor blades where only three originally turned, and new acoustic treatment fora larger engine, the Garrett 231-10 rated at about 60 percent of capacity at 650shp. The resulting ship produces sound at half the level of the original, whichshould be a boon to operators flying in noise-sensitive areas. Rather thanremaining the exclusive purview of Papillon, as Halvorson originally envisioned,the company he heads signed a manufacturing agreement with VAT and offers theWhisper Jet to any operator. But with so many of the rules tilted against airtour and other helicopter operators from rescue to research, the questionremains: Will any presence be tolerable to helicopter opponents?

New Life For Old Warriors: Huey 703 Conversion Ups The Ante

Future movies about Vietnam could show better-performing UH-1H Hueys than reallyexisted, if operators of this venerable old warrior take to an upgrade Honeywellsupported dubbed the Huey 703. The conversion gives the Huey a useful load boostof 2,500 pounds, thanks primarily to a 30-percent power gain from a bolt-inengine upgrade to the 1,800-shp Garrett T53-L-703. Other upgrades enhancecontrol and performance through a new density-altitude compensator, a newtail-rotor mechanism and upgraded tail-fin spar for increased strength. AirworkLimited/Helipro Conversions, in Arlington, handles the marketing. And with about3,600 Hueys eligible, plus another 900 or so AH-1 Cobra versions as well, a lotof good old Hueys could see a lot longer life.

To Quietly Go Where No One Need Go: VTUAV Brings More Eyes-In-The-Skies

VTUAVIf Schweizer Helicopters and its collaborators succeed, the U.S. Navy could soonneed a new design for its wings to designate pilots who never leave the flightdeck, the guys flying the new eyes-that-spy, the VTUAV. And Heli-Expo 2000 gotto see the remotely piloted vehicle — battleship gray all over, no windows, nodoors. Schweizer built the ship in partnership with Northrop Grumman andLockheed Martin Federal Systems to compete for the Navy’s Vertical Takeoff andLanding Unmanned Aerial Vehicle contract, and it already had flown its firsttests when it was trucked into Las Vegas. The Navy requirements demand a payloadcapability of 200 pounds, to carry the load of imaging equipment planned.Qualifiers must be able to launch vertically, fly 110 nautical miles and hangaround three hours before returning to land. Everything but the paint job soundslike a winner, but gray goes with the mission statement.

The Envelopes, Please

What makes a guy fly a helicopter far out to sea into howling winds to pluckseven yachtsmen from four-story seas that shattered their racing yacht?Certainly not the Wizard of Oz. But every year, scores of pilots contribute inexceptional ways to the well-being of humanity, and some of those, likeAustralian pilot Daniel Tyler, rise to the level of exceptional among theexceptional. And as the winner of HAI’s 1999 Pilot of the Year award, he was farfrom alone.

The Turkish Armed Forces shared in the 1999 Igor Sikorsky Award for HumanitarianService for flying thousands of sorties over weeks of 24-hour days, aidingvictims of two earthquakes in their homeland. Tens of thousands died; countlessothers survived through the efforts of the pilots and crew flying helicoptersinto places accessible no other way. Sharing in the award were the warriorsagainst disease at AgRotors. The company undertook the unique and dangerous taskof spraying the entire city of New York and the New Jersey suburbs fordisease-carrying mosquitoes. No telling how many people survived the summerbecause of those flights.

Bell Helicopter’s Loren Doughty, director of the company’s training academy, wastapped for the Joe Moshman Safety Award, while ERA Helicopters president CharlesJohnson received the Lawrence Bell Memorial Award for his contribution to theindustry. Veteran communicator Frank McGuire won long-overdue recognition of hiscontribution with the 1999 Communicator of the Year Award. Paul James took theMechanic of the Year award back to Big Valley Aviation, where he’s the vicepresident of maintenance of the employee-owned operation.

Regrettably, the 1999 MD Law Enforcement Award winner got the nod after dying ina maintenance flight. But thanks to the skill of Desmond Casey, chief pilot ofthe San Jose PD, people and buildings were spared when the department’s Air Oneship spun out of control on the flight. The helicopter eventually crashed in astreet, killing Casey and mechanic Herman Yee.

One More Thing …

Of course, one of the major activities at any event like Heli-Expo 2000 issimply walking around on the exhibit floor, looking at all the new hardware. Ofcourse, not everyone can drop everything, take a few days, jet off to Vegas andstroll around. Not to fear — the next best thing to being there is AVweb‘scollection of images from the event.