Orlando – Many segments of general aviation sufferedunnecessarily under the often-nonsensical constraints of our"post-nine-one-one" airspace system: flight training, electronicnewsgathering and other operations heavily dominated by helicopters. In fact,some helicopter-dominated segments continued to bleed the red ink borne ofillogical restrictions for nearly a dozen weeks after the terroristattacks-by-airliners; some still do.
This state of affairs generated questions about what to expect for Heli-Expo2002 when the rotorcraft community came together last week for its annualgathering. Coming right up to the start of the convention, HAI officialsconfessed that they truly lacked a sense of what to expect. "That’s whatwe’re about to find out," said HAI Vice President Glenn Rizner a few daysbefore the convention opened.
Vendors had already purchased about 3 percent more booth space than in 2001 andHeli-Expo consumed more overall hall footage than last year. The number ofhelicopters expected to fly in for display inside the OCCC nearly matched thenumber of last year.
But the rotorcraft community gave itself something of a Valentine on February 14 byturning out in strength for the convention opening. That opening-day turnoutincluded strong on-site registration activity, exactly what was needed to buoyadvanced registrations toward the total numbers for 2001. Thereafter, it continued to groweach day to a level that surprised convention organizers by matching the attendanceat last year’s gathering in Anaheim.
By the end of its three-day run, on-site registrations carriedattendance figures for Heli-Expo’s first visit to the Eastern Time Zone in adecade comfortably into the mid-11,000 level. For comparison, Heli-Expo 2001drew about 11,700, according to HAI.
"I’m somewhat pleasantly surprised, as you might understand," saida beaming Roy Resavage, president of the Helicopter Association International,which hosts the annual event for the benefit of its members and the helicoptercommunity at large. "Considering what they’ve come through in the past fewmonths, I think this is a proud moment for our community and a promising signthat we’ve come through despite the experience."
Although new product announcements were not the rule, there were new productsto see and new equipment to hear about. The progress of ongoing developmentprograms helped add a sense of progress and continuity.
But the attitude on the convention floor said as much about the strength ofthis community as numbers and statistics. All across the floor there were signs of recovery and arenewed sense of confidence that flavored Heli-Expo 2002.
Returned From The Brink: Some Are Back; Some Are Gone Forever
From Sales To Service To Service Sales, RecoverySeems Underway
You needed only to ask the most common question in aviation — "How’sbusiness?" — to hear the most-quoted answer of the convention: "It’scoming back."
While it’s great to know that survivors abound and new abundance appearsimminent for some, there were those in the helicopter community who didn’t make it through theend of 2001 with their businesses intact. It’s difficult to generalize aboutwhat segments suffered most and impossible to say with certainty how many didn’tsurvive to see Heli-Expo 2002. It is not a challenge, however, to support theperception that everybody in the community suffered to some extent.
The grounding of all VFR ops for weeks precluded factoriesand shops from performing production and experimental flight tests and conductingpost-maintenance check flights. Flight schools could not teach. Aerialapplicators could not apply their treatments. Customers could not take deliveryor use their aircraft.
And the ripple effect reached into every shore of the small pond that is thehelicopter community. Customers delayed orders, which caused factories to slowwork, which backed up component deliveries from other vendors who were forced in turntolay off workers or delay hiring.
While not necessarily incalculable, the assessment of the damage must go tosomeone better qualified than I. "It’s safe to say it’s intothe billions," said one OEM executive, who asked not to be identified.
"And it wasn’t just damage done here at home," the executive noted."The impact rippled across continents and oceans far away because companieshere at home couldn’t conclude the work needed to conduct business with thoseoverseas customers."
The operational constraints of the post-9/11 world served only to compoundthe problems some operators and manufacturers already suffered at the hands ofstruggling domestic and world economies. The uncertainties of future, unknown,restrictions served to make many a prospect even more cautious than usual — at least through the end of the fourth quarter of 2001. In the weeks sinceNew Year’s Day, as the voices proclaimed, business "is coming back."
Bouncing Back: Sales Rebound On Post-9/11 Realities
Homeland Security Ripples Buoy Demand For Helicopters AndHardware
Although the long-term forecast for helicopter sales appears flat, there waslittle doubt that many manufacturers were celebrating a return of sales actionthat contrasted sharply with the doldrums of late 2001. The reasons quotedvaried according to who you asked, but a common thread ran through almost everyrespondent’s quotations: national security.
"Look, since 9/11 the government has asked a great deal more out ofstate and local law enforcement. We’re dealing with new concerns and new needsand it all means more spending," noted an executive with one helicoptermanufacturer.
Said an exec from a competing company, "A year ago, the politicians andbureaucrats couldn’t pinch a penny any harder; today, they are all in line formore money to cover more ground in more ways."
Border security, local emergency needs, better preparedness. All thesereasons and more are leading more government entities to find more money formore hardware. "These folks aren’t embarking on a spending spree,"said a supplier of specialty medical equipment, "as much as they’re lookingto fulfill needs they’ve long known about but lacked the bucks to fulfill."
"More defense department spending, new spending for homeland security,and more concerns about local needs — it’s all driving a sense of need thatofficials are finally ready to address."
That said, forecasts of flat long-term growth don’t seem to portend along-term impact on helicopter sales. That is to say, what’s sold in the nextfew years could be at the expense of sales later in the decade.
According to Forecast International’s World Rotorcraft Forecast, salesthrough 2010 will total just over 9,200 helicopters worth about $18 billion.Last year brought a reversal of a three-year decline with an increase inhelicopter deliveries attributable primarily to piston helicopter sales — withmost of those coming from Robinson.
That reversal of fortune combined with an outlook for stable future sales to helpbuoy attitudes at Heli-Expo 2002 in marked contrast to the last three somewhatdepressing conventions. But it’s not necessarily all good news for everyone.Competitive positions change. For example, last year Eurocopter booked 375orders, overtaking perennial turbine-helicopter sales leader Bell. But Bell puton a solid show and a new front designed to show customers that it’s payingcloser attention to support and quality in hopes of recapturing its lead slot,making note that former Cessna chairman Russ Meyer is actively involved inTextron’s aviation segment as the head man over Bell, Cessna and Lycoming.
And there’s juggling likely to happen among the other players in the field,such as MD Helicopters Inc., Sikorsky, Schweizer and industry sales leaderRobinson. It should be a dynamic decade.
The New, The Improved, And The Innovative
Humans seldom show signs of wanting to stand still — at least, humans withdreams of wings and flying machines at the core of their being. So it is in allother segments of aviation; so it was at Heli-Expo 2002.
As noted earlier, this year’s HAI convention won’t go down in history on thebasis of its new-product announcements. And realistically, every year can’t be abanner year for using the new-and-improved as a yardstick for success.Nonetheless, Heli-Expo 2002 still delivered a few pearls worthy of the label,"Newsworthy." Here’s what stood out.
Jag Brings Turbine Power To The World Of Homebuilt Kit-Copters
The biggest attention-getter of Heli-Expo 2002 came not from a majormanufacturer, but from a fledgling upstart of a company that brought a full-sizestatic model to Orlando the same way customers can expect delivery of their Jag255 from Jag Helicopter Group LLC — on a truck. That’s because this sleek, sexymachine arrives as a kit, the world’s first kit-copter designed from the startfor turboshaft power.
"We think this is something overdue for the market," said Joe Rinke,a principal in the limited-liability company based in Roseville, Mich. "Usingthe Allison (Rolls-Royce) 250 solves most of the shortcomings of other homebuilthelicopters," Rinke said.
Seating two, the Jag 255 uses the 317-horsepower 250-C18 version ofRolls’ venerable turboshaft engine to power a five-blade main rotor and afive-blade tail rotor with a fenestron-like shroud. The composite shell enclosesa tube frame that carries the engine and transmission in a position that leavesa substantial luggage compartment aft of the cabin.
Although a prototype is still a few weeks away from its first flight, testson the powerplant and running gear have been ongoing for weeks, according toRenke. "We’re running everything to the breaking point, beyond what wouldbe needed for a certified helicopter, so there aren’t any problems in thefield," he noted.
Presuming that the first flight matches Renke’s confidence level, the companyplans to accelerate its flying program to the point that they can display andfly the new ship in Chopper Town at EAA Sun ‘n Fun in April. "We should beready," Renke said.
What the audience will see is a homebuilt helicopter capable of cruising at145 mph for a dry-tanks distance of 399 miles, according to companyspecifications. The company is working hard to keep the projected equipped emptyweight at the specified 1,100 pounds so that, with 55 gallons of Jet A, the ownercan enjoy a full-fuel payload of 1,600 pounds.
The price for this performance and capability: starting at about $125,000,including engine, plus an estimated 400 hours in sweat equity. And if theprogram progresses as planned, look for a four-seat growth model next year. (www.JagHelicopter.com)
A Kit Of Another Color: S-52-Inspired Kit-Copter OnComeback Trail
This bird closely resembles a Sikorsky S-52 in configuration but lacks a bitin size and horsepower. But if Vertical Aviation Technologies, thedeveloper of the Hummingbird, gets its way, soon anyone with about $140,000 tospend can build a four-place helicopter capable of cruising at 95 knots. Thekit, under development by the Sanford, Fla.-based company, actually startedlife in the early 1990s before being shelved after the sale of 14 kits. Theprice quoted includes a 260-horse IO-540 Lycoming six-cylinder engine, airframe,all the running gear and landing gear. The builder adds paint and avionics totheir work to make the finished ship. Expect about an 800-hour build time,according to the company.
Eye Spy: FlyMotionCam Offers Multiple Modes ForAerial-Video Needs
Anyone who watched Turner Network Television’s epic mini-series"Gettysburg" has seen just one aspect of this new ship’s capabilitiesin the low, bird’s-eye shots of soldiers streaming across a farm field. Thedevelopers of the FlyMotionCam say that early use of this diminutiveradio-controlled ship is only the beginning.
Also on tap are an autonomous-flight mode in which the FlyMotionCam follows apre-programmed GPS-derived course and a so-called user-friendly flight mode inwhich the 80-pound helicopter can be flown by almost anyone capable of handlingthe two-axis control yoke of a simple PC-based flight-simulator program. With adiminutive six-horsepower two-cycle engine, the FlyMotionCam can carry still and35-millimeter motion-picture camera gear, infrared and night-vision imagine gearand transmit data or images to a ground station via an integral telemetrysystem.
Although developed by an individual radio-controlled helicopter hobbyist, FlyMotionCam is now a Dutch company owned by RDM Aerospace. As the fullcapabilities and potential of the little ship become more viable, the companyexpects to place FlyMotionCams in roles ranging from law enforcement to newsgathering to environmental monitoring, coastal patrol, even pipeline andpower-line patrol work. Depending on the equipment installed, prices range fromthe low-$20,000 range up to about $100,000 for one equipped for autonomousflight.
But don’t expect the FlyMotionCam to deprive helicopter pilots of work. Atits size and lift capabilities, there will still be plenty of work for full-sizehelicopters lifting logs, installing roof-top equipment, rescuing the strandedand airlifting the injured.
Say No More: PS Engineering Unveils New Helicopter AudioPanel
As usual, the folks in Lenoir, Tenn., have been busy over the winter withnew projects designed to improve the hearing capabilities of general aviationpilots — focusing this time on the helicopter segment. Among the new products introducedby PS Engineering at Heli-Expo 2002 was the PAC24, an audio panel designed as aplug-and-play replacement for the King KMA24-71 or KMA24H.
Common in many high-performance airplanes and rotorcraft, the King unit lacks theadvances built into the PAC24 — including PSE’s exclusive IntelliVoxvoice-activated intercom control, split and patented "swap" modes, CVRoutput, a full-duplex mode for use with a cellular phone system, and IRS or"Internal Recording System" for playing back up to 60 seconds of radiotraffic.
PSE also debuted a new Tactical Radio Adapter aimed at easing thecommunications demands for special-mission aircraft such as SAR and ENG ships.Basically, the TRA allows for the simple integration and control of multiplenon-aviation transceivers of the kind used by police, emergency responseaircraft, news and others. So PSE made the TRA to be adaptable to all aviationaudio panels and non-aviation transceivers from Motorola, Icom, Midland andothers.
Finally, PSE also unveiled a new product designed to improve the safety ofhelicopter operations: an audio-warning system for helicopter use. The PRD60 isa derivative of the Digital Warning System available with the company’s popularPMA7000M-S audio panel designed to provide the pilot with a specific voicewarning of a problem instead of an audio alert tone. So if the helicopter’ssystems detect a chip in the engine or gearbox, the PRD60 annunciates the words"Chip Detect!" It announces "Low Fuel" if fuel level drops below aspecific point. The unit comes programmed with a total of six messages at aprice of $499.95, with additional custom messages available for a modest charge.
Building A Better Blade: Carson’s Swept-Tip DesignImproves Lift
One of the most-proven ways to get a better aircraft is to start with a goodone and improve its weaknesses — exactly the approach taken by CarsonHelicopters of Perkasie, Penn., for the venerable Sikorsky S-61. And, as isoften the case, the path to improvement involved aerodynamic tweeking with animprovement in materials thrown in.
Carson is near STC approval for a new carbon-fiber, swept-tip main-rotorblade that improves the S-61 in several ways. Perhaps most notable of thoseimprovements is a 2,000-pound increase in lift capacity over the originalall-metal blades. The new blades also will enjoy a 20,000-hour lifespan, doublethat of the original blades. The new blades also improve the ship’s cruise speedand fuel efficiency. And the company isn’t resting there.
Other improvements slated for the big Sikorsky include a new design for thetail rotor blades, fuselage strakes to improve crosswind capabilities and aredesigned landing gear that should deliver a further enhancement in cruise speedby as much as six to eight knots. Carson enjoys a reputation as a specialist inthe S-61 thanks to improvements the company designed and implemented in itsSikorskys in support of logging and other heavy lift applications.
Thinking Light: Eurocopter Testing Fly-By-LightHelicopter Controls
Yes, we said "fly-by-light," as in a technology already tested byRaytheon Aircraft for potential use to command movement of flight-controlsurfaces. European manufacturer Eurocopter has flown a test-bed aircraft usinglight impulses passing through fiber-optic cables to command movement of theprimary flight controls of an EC-135. With fly-by-wire controls only now cominginto use on the Bell Agusta 609 civil tilt rotor and V-22 Osprey — bringing withit savings in weight and complexity — the advent of fly-by-light holds promisefor further weight and complexity savings, plus improvements inhandling and a resistance to some problems inherent in control systems based onelectrical impulses traveling through wires.
Stimulating Simulation: Low-Cost Units Expand TrainingOptions
Now for something completely different, if you’ll pardon the Pythonism, intraining devices: a Level 2 helicopter flight training device, mounted in atrailer — for under a hundred grand. Hard to believe? We thought so, too, untilwe sampled the Professional Helicopter Simulator, or PHS, from FlyIt Simulatorsof Carlsbad, Calif.
That trailer sports a dual-control flight deck with functioning fauxinstrumentation on a flat-panel monitor and an animated ground display shown ona rear-projection screen that measures 93 inches wide by 78 inches tall. Yes,all in a trailer that stretches 18 feet in length. Configurable to match almostany helicopter, the FlyIt is approved for logging primary and instrument time,for competency checks, and for the fun of it.
The company also has approval for use of the FlyIt as a fixed-wing trainingdevice. The helicopter version includes software for Robinson’s R22 and R44piston-powered models, Schweitzer’s 300 piston two-seater as well as Bell’s 206Band MD Helicopter’s 500E turbine helicopters.
Another option is available from Environmental Tectonics Corp. in the form ofthe General Aviation Trainer II — or GAT II. Although not as portable as theFlyIt, it does offer the advantages of low costs and a motion platform forincreased realism.
Fight Fire With Flight: Columbia Helicopter’s ChinookHauls
It creates a downwash that would make a storm chaser run, a blast of air anddebris so strong that it stings your ankles on landing. But the world’s largestfire-fighter only hurts when it’s hovering in ground effect, and when the Boeing 234 Chinookis used to beat down the flames of wildfires itspends less time hovering that it does dumping.
And this is one big dumper, with the ability to lift 28,000 pounds — 125percent of its empty weight. That translates to 19 hotshot firefighters headedfor a hot spot, plus a 3,000-gallon Bambi Bucket with a new Powerfill pumpsystem and a Torrentula valve — capabilities that make the big ship unique.
It takes two 4,355 shp turboshaft engines to make it all work, so that atwork the Chinook can dip its Powerfill intake into water only 18 inches deep,take on 3,000 gallons in about 100 seconds, and then race off to the hot spot ofinterest. Or you can sling a piece of equipment — like a Caterpillar earth-mover— and haul it up into wildfire country as high as 7,000 feet MSL.
Columbia is posting this Chinook — one of eight the company owns — inTallahassee starting this week. So if you happen to be flying around Floridaduring the upcoming wildfire season, keep your head on a swivel. At thealtitudes this ship works, you’ll probably be well above it when it’s dumping onfires — but it’s a sight you’re going to want to see in action.
In The End: Gratification And Guarded Optimism
Heli-Expo 2002 May Signal Aviation’s Latent Health
"I’m truly gratified that we’ve had a normal show," HAI presidentRoy Resavage told AvWeb shortly before this year’s Heli-Expo ended."We’re all hoping it’s a sign of how far we’ve come in returning to somelevel of normalcy — despite the challenges that remain."
And challenges do remain. Operators continually fret over the frequency andnature of ever-changing rules and constraints. The creation of yet anotherTransportation Department bureaucracy is creating concerns within all segmentsof aviation — and within the FAA itself, according to a number of staffers from800 Independence Avenue in D.C.
Add all that to the moving target of security concerns among the secretivenational security apparatus and you have the makings for an industry assassin."FAA, Office of Homeland Security, the Transportation SecurityAdministration, the NSC, local FSDO misinterpretations and local communitiesasking for their own special restrictions — it’s a wonder this industry hasn’tcollectively gone bankrupt," noted one FAA staffer.
But the very fact that vendor and member attendance matched last year’s Heli-Expoadded a sense that the worst may — hopefully — be behind the rotorcraftcommunity. "I think it’s a testament to the resiliency and persistence ofour members that this show is the success it is," said Resavage.
If we can say some of these same things for Heli-Expo 2003, the helicoptercommunity will have proven its long-term staying power. But that’s another storyfor another year. Getting from here to there will be the test.