Built to Guard?

The EC-145 Is a Strong Contender in the Medium Utility Twin-Engine Class
Peter Pigott
February 28, 2010
By Peter Pigott
"Currently, the 22 aircraft of the Canadian Coast Guard's (CCG) air fleet are in good working order and provide safe and effective delivery of CCG programs, “says Gary Sidock, director general, Fleet Directorate. Yet he adds that “having said that, our air fleet is dated technology, as the aircraft range in age from 25 to 37 years old. The entire fleet is only VFR capable, with the exception of our current single heavy-lift S-61N aircraft based in Prince Rupert, which is IFR capable.” While the current fleet is well maintained and adequate to meet CCG and partner needs, Sidock notes that “…given their age, operating and maintenance costs for our helicopters are an issue.”
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Visibility and room make this a flexible “cube van” for the skies.
With the CCG’s current responsibilities, such as marine nav-aid, telecommunications, icebreaking, Arctic resupply and some search-and-rescue tasks and, increasingly, sovereignty patrols, the 22 helicopters are in high demand. So it comes as a relief that the agency is planning to replace its aged fleet with new aircraft to the tune of 16 light utility twin engine helicopters and six medium utility twin-engine helicopters, all IFR capable.

When the CCG has committed funds and is ready to entertain bids for its fleet renewal, there will be no shortage of modern helicopters to choose from – see the sidebar on page 20 for available options in the medium utility twin class. Among these will certainly be the Eurocopter 145, a strong contender in the medium utility twin engine class.

Melding Man & Machine
An outgrowth of the German BK-117s, the EC-145 is actually a 117C-2 but a significant leap from the old 117s.  Distinguished by its stylish energy absorbing fuselage and its tail boom with fixed horizontal stabilizer and two end-plates, the 145 has combined Eurocopter’s latest developments, like the advanced cockpit design and avionics, with the proven, rugged BK-117 legacy. But there are several other proven helicopters on the market right now in this class – so what makes the EC-145 stand out? 

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The design and rigid rotor allow four people to work on one side of the platform at once, handy characteristics should winch rescues be part of the work diet.

 
Gary G. Krebs, Eurocopter’s chief test pilot, says they began with three assets – “Space, ergonomics and man-machine interface.  Taking the last, when we look at the basic instrumentation in the CPDS (Central Panel Display System), Eurocopter has been working over the last decade doing two things: decreasing pilot workload and thus increasing safety.  To decrease pilot workload, it developed the VEMD (Vehicle and Engine Management Display), which gives engine parameters (oil pressure and temperature, etc.) with two three- by four-inch screens and Caution Advisory Display (CAD) on a three- by four-inch screen.”

Having cut his teeth on air ambulance helicopters more than 20 years ago, Krebs remembers when pilots had to continually scan various instruments to monitor engine and transmission torque, gearbox and engine oil temperatures just as they were executing intricate hover manoeuvres. In the EC-145, the First-Limit Indicator (FLI), which is part of the VEMD, does it for him. It takes in the engine, aircraft and atmospheric parameters, computes the data and then automatically indicates to the pilot the first limit he will reach during a period of flight. “The pilot just has to look at one needle,” Krebs explains. “If he does not “red line” the needle, all systems are within their limits.

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Whether loading patients and doctors, or resupply gear for the Arctic, the clamshell doors make it fast and easy work.

 
The FLI encompasses six basic engine parameters, three per engine and torque from both engines – all of that onto a single gauge.  From the pilot’s perspective, it is one gauge and one needle to look at as opposed to the six for takeoffs and landings in older models. This decreases the pilot workload considerably. For something like hovering, which is when we are doing our most work in terms of pilotage – the FLI makes that side so much easier.”
 
Krebs’s enthusiasm for the EC-145’s avionics is evident as, with pilot fatigue reduced, safety is enhanced.  Other cockpit features include the engine twist grip controls at the pilot’s collective pitch lever, the three-axis autopilot (pitch, roll and yaw is through the autopilot), the dual Garmin 430s, the dual GPS/NAV/COM and the two SAGEM glass cockpit MFD/PFD (multi function/primary function displays). With this, the EC-145 is able to fly day and night VFR, with night vision goggles, and it is also certified for single-pilot IFR.

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The display, which combines six key engine parameters in one gauge, has been designed to reduce pilot fatigue and to allow simple one-pilot operation.

 
Prominent on the EC-145's roof is the hingeless rotor system, its monolithic titanium hub and four glass and carbon fibre reinforced blades, ensuring low noise and vibration levels.

“Basically, “Krebs says, “it is a rigid rotor system so all of the lead lag flapping happens within the blade rather than the head, which makes it extremely manoeuv-
rable and agile.  The titanium hub head is something that Eurocopter has grown from the mid-sixties from the 105 to the 117 to the 145.” The low vibration and high flight stability are designed for transporting patients, medics or combat-ready troops, and, because it is high set, there is no crouching and the main rotor provides safe access to the cabin.

  Guarding Green Too

As government agencies around the globe pay more heed to the environmental footprint of their activities, including their fleets, a new initiative from Eurocopter may garner attention. The helicopter manufacturer unveiled a new environmental performance tracking system at Heli-Expo 2010 in Houston last month, one it hopes other manufacturers will also embrace.

Much like the EnerGuide system used in Canada to compare the energy consumption of similar automobiles and home appliances, Eurocopter’s proposed Environmental Performance Indicator system will help clients compare that and other green performance variables. Using a scale from A+ to E, the indicators will allow noise and emission comparisons between models and perhaps one day even between manufacturers. For example, an A+ rating in emissions requires a fuel consumption of 9 kg fuel or less per hour per 100 kg of useful load (the latter used to introduce the notion of utility into the mix). An E is a consumption of over 21 kg of fuel.  For noise levels, rankings are based on ICAO approved certification noise levels, with B and C representing the average of current models, and A+ targeting the Clean Sky Joint technology initiative objectives. The goal is to give helicopter buyers and users an easy way to evaluate the environmental performance as part of their purchase or contracting decisions.  

Eurocopter’s current line-up runs almost the whole range, from A to C in noise and B to one D in emissions. Where does the EC-145 sit in all this? A very solid A in noise and respectable B in emissions. More info on this environmental rating system can be found at www.bluecopter.com .
Mission Space
The instrumentation and rotor aside, another attraction is the unobstructed interior of the main cabin.  Here there are no boxy partitions or floor to ceiling door posts in sight – just space for up to 10 high-density seats or 6 m3 (213 ft3) of cargo volume. “The unobstructed space is behind you, around you and in front of you,” the chief test pilot points out. “A lot of times when you get into older helicopter models you have control tubes that hinder movement, but in this case the cyclic and collective control is through the ball cables which are in the pillar between the two windshields.”

Nor is the cabin floor on several levels, allowing for unimpeded loading of whatever equipment the mission demands – plush leather seats for VIPs, operator’s consoles with multi-mission screens for police or battlefield surveillance or high-density seating for SWAT teams.  The two wide passenger sliding doors and two rear hinged clamshell doors also make for easy access and exit of the cabin and cargo compartment.  But what makes the 145 particularly suited to SAR or other similar missions is that the open cabin can take straight-in loading of two stretchers through the rear clamshell doors as well as two doctors and two attendants with all their equipment.

“When I look behind me and see the space,” says Krebs, “this is a flying cube van.  But the best feature of this aircraft is the versatility of the cabin – the ability to change from configuration to configuration very quickly. We can do any kind of passenger /cargo combination. And the rails allow us to change configurations fast. In one aircraft you have SAR, VIP, EMS, troop transport. I think that’s really where it excels. The flexibility of the aircraft to perform many roles is its greatest selling point.  Also if you look at the way the windows are in the aft cabin you can virtually see down the side of the helicopter.”

While the CCG does not currently perform hoist rescues, the EC-145 is well positioned should that need change in the future. For helicopters used in SAR, and especially those operating in maritime and Arctic regions, strong winch performance is essential, and the 145’s rescue winch does not disappoint. Marc Jouan, Eurocopter program manager, pointed out its capabilities. “With a lift capacity of 272 kg (600 lbs) and a cable length of 90 m, the winch is also positioned on the right side of the aircraft, next to the pilot, allowing him to see the location for the winching and position the aircraft accordingly. The winching can be done with four people on the same side: pilot, winch man, the guy at the bottom of the winch securing it (could be a swimmer) and the patient.”

Four people on one side of a hovering platform – and it is no problem?  “The rigid rotor,” Krebs explains, “gives you the widest lateral C of G so winching is much less of an issue laterally. It provides a cone of stability better than an articulated rotor.”

Other missions
In 2007, Eurocopter scored an impressive victory when the militarized version of the EC-145 was selected by the U.S. Army as its new multi-mission Light Utility Helicopter (LUH). Called the UH-72A Lakota, it made history as the first civilian-built helicopter to be bought by the U.S. military.  Full rate production of 345 UH-72As was then initiated at the Eurocopter facility at Columbus, Miss., for the U.S. Army and Homeland Security. Washington said that the decision to replace the Black Hawks currently in use with an off the shelf, lighter, cheaper helicopter like the EC-145 had much to do with cost-savings, lessening pilot fatigue and expediency of procurement – points that the CCG might also consider.

As to that agency’s agenda for helicopter replacement, there was no firm timetable as of press time. Gary Sidock says that, given the magnitude of the capital investment required, the CCG cannot afford to self-fund this investment from its own resources and the usual Government of Canada processes will apply to funding decisions and approvals, as well as to the procurement process, including the specific types of replacement aircraft. In short, an open bid. Still, what would Canadian content be if the CCG did purchase the EC-145?

 “It would be some part production, possibly the tail boom,” says Jouan, “to be made at the Canadian Eurocopter plant in Fort Erie, Ont., which would also handle all repair, overhaul, pilot and AME training and simulation. It’s a good base for support,” he adds.  “Thanks to the Fort Erie plant we have a good footprint in Canada.”

Pick of the Litter
Anyone looking for a mission-ready medium utility twin heli in the current market is faced with an embarrassment of riches. In addition to the Eurocopter EC-145 highlighted in this feature, Canadian Coast Guard shoppers have as a minimum the following options to look over. Helicopters magazine will take a closer look at each in coming issues.

AgustaWestland AW-139
pol1This purpose-built aircraft graces our cover this month in full search and rescue mode, and, while the CCG may not currently outfit its copters for hoist rescues as Spain’s Salvamento Maritimo does, the AW-139 fits the bill in many other ways. Designed deliberately for SAR and maritime security work, the AW-139 is driven by two Pratt & Whitney PT6C-67C Turboshafts with FADEC, and combines a very large cabin with large sliding doors and a flat floor. Avionics and auto-pilot functions are designed to fight pilot fatigue. The AW-139 offers day/night IFR for all weather operations. Maximum range with no reserve is over 1,000 km.  

Bell 429 and 412EP
pol2With a major manufacturing footprint in Canada, Bell has to
be on the radar. It also has two options in its proven 412EP and new 429.

At Heli-Expo in Houston last month, Bell confirmed it was shaving even more weight off the recently-released 429, good news for operators planning on adding mission-specific gear. It has a range of 754 km driven by two Pratt & Whitney Canada PW-207D1 engines that can help the 429 reach its 278 km/h cruise speed. Cabin seats can be individually removed in minutes to configure space for a variety of needs, plus the standard skid gear is suited for rugged landing areas. A large cabin, clamshell doors, structural flat floors, tie-downs, and 3,000 lb capacity cargo hook are suited to remote resupply missions.

pol3Conditioned for all conditions is how Bell bills its 412EP medium utility twin workhorse. Powered by proven Pratt & Whitney PT6T-3D Twin Pac engine, Bell boasts that the 412EP has both the highest dispatch reliability in its class as well as the lowest seat mile cost. It has a range of 659 km and can handle a load to 2,286 kg through its wide opening, fast-loading doors. It has a dual digital automatic flight control system as standard equipment and the flexibility to integrate automatic approach to hover and automatic hover capabilities in the future.

Kaman SH-2G Super Seasprite
pol4Also built for maritime missions, the Seasprite is suited for naval warfare as well as SAR and maritime security and support roles. Its specialty is small ship operations, but it still packs a full-size punch, including a range beyond 800 km and endurance of over five hours. It is powered by two
GE T701-401 engines and has a fully marinized fuselage and drive train. The latter has a 10,000 hour minimum life before major inspection, based on more than 1.3 million flight hours among these models. Photo courtesy RNZN.

Sikorsky S-76D
A multi-mission helicopter, the S-76D is a recent offering from this helicopter legend and the latest in the proven S-76 series. The S-76D has much in common with the 700+ S-76s in the field, and brings more to the table: More powerful engines with the Pratt & Whitney PW-210S engines optimized for this helicopter; low fuel consumption and better efficiency for longer range travel; and a state-of-the-art Thales TopDeck cockpit based on commercial airliners with single- or dual-pilot IFR and optional NVG configurable. Standard safety features include Honeywell’s Enhanced Ground Proximity Warning System, Goodrich Vigor HUMS and a combined flight data recorder and cockpit voice recorder. Standard no reserve range is 818 km, and optional auxiliary fuel tanks (50 and 102 gallons) are available.

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