Bell Relentless in ‘Big D’
By Matt Nicholls
They say in the Lone Star state you better go big or go home. Well, Textron’s Bell Helicopter certainly didn’t skimp at the biggest helicopter show of the year, Heli Expo 2012 in Dallas, Tex. Big? Try Huge.
Bell stole the show at this year’s industry mecca in mid-February with an impressive marketing display and stirring introduction of its new 525 Relentless super medium twin helicopter, the largest civil helicopter in the company’s history. Revealed in an impressive lighting and video display with a large contingent of slickly dressed Bell employees on hand, the 525 created a buzz that reverberated throughout the Dallas Convention Center.
|The flight deck of the Bell 525 Relentless was patterned after the Boeing A380 Dreamliner. |
(Photo courtesy of Bell Helicopter)
“Bell Helicopter is on a mission to ensure you are successful in your own specific mission,” Bell president/CEO John Garrison said during the lavish 525 introduction on the show’s second day. “Over the past three years, we have been on our own mission to revitalize our commercial business – with a laser focus on ensuring our customers are successful.”
The 525, known as the mysterious “Magellan” project for months prior to the launch, is an impressive machine with a wide variety of applications. It weighs in at 18,000 pounds and has a projected range of more than 400 nautical miles, a speed close to 150 knots and a ceiling of 20,000 feet – so it certainly meets the “big” requirement. The aircraft is powered by two General Electric CT7-2F1 engines, which generate 1,800 horsepower each, and sports many of the technological advancements and bells and whistles you’d expect from a cutting-edge, next-generation machine. Some of the highlights:
- A Garmin G5000H glass cockpit (a rotary version of the system found in the Cessna Citation X) with quick, intuitive touch controls for better control and training applications;
- Enhanced flight control computers from BAE Systems;
- Comfortable 20-inch wide passenger seats;
- A five-bladed main rotor for a smooth, comfortable ride;
- Well-designed architecture in the mid-cabin (“cavernous” according to Bell senior vice-president Larry Roberts, the most room in the industry in its class);
- A large cargo hold, largest in the industry in its class;
- A lift assist tail boom design for better flight control of the aircraft.
|In 2012, Sikorsky will start delivery on its S-76D aircraft with the first model expected out in July. |
(Photo courtesy of Sikorsky)
With its power, speed, and impressive interior space, the 525 is ideally suited for the oil and gas sector – and it is sure to make a mark here – though company officials are touting it for a variety of applications. The 525 is capable of carrying up to 16 passengers and can be configured for oil and gas, search and rescue (SAR), emergency medical transport and VIP/corporate support.
The 525 program is the genesis of years of work following a careful criteria outlined by an advisory board of loyal customers, made up of all levels from pilots of operations managers to maintenance managers. Members of the advisory team advised Bell to create an aircraft that is affordable, delivers improved range capabilities, has a spacious cabin with more cargo volume and has improved situational awareness.
“We not only listened, we reacted – we developed a new super medium helicopter,” Garrison said. Added Bell chief engineer David King: “We have essentially built this program around a customer advisory panel that is essentially part of the design team. We also divided our development team into different product teams and they were managed as their own business unit. They were empowered to make the cross-functional decisions necessary. It includes designers and the voice of the customer. They see their fingerprints on the final design.”
Bell’s Roberts pointed out some of the key aspects of the 525 in greater detail. The J-track seats, for example, which are new to the industry, allow very easy access for the crew and pilots into the cockpit. “The cockpit itself is based on awareness reactive control from horizon to horizon,” Roberts added. “So, it’s not just new Garmin5000 Horizon display, it’s not just the superb fly-by-wire system designed by BAE, it’s not just all the enhanced visibility, it’s not just the cockpit space, it’s all one concept under arc horizon . . . now and going into the future. And I’m sure many of you are little unnerved about seeing five blades on a Bell Helicopter. But they are beautifully engineered in a fully articulated main rotor hub.”
The 525’s first flight will likely occur next year or in 2014, said Roberts, with certification in the U.S. to occur in 2014. Certification in Canada and Europe will follow. The 525 will be built in Texas, the home of the company’s Bell/Boeing V-22 Osprey program. Currently, more than 300 employees in Mirabel, Que., and Dallas work on the program. Estimated costs for the program are $500 million, part of the company’s $1-billion factory, research and inventory investment program Bell announced earlier this year.
PHI, a leading offshore oil company operating in the Gulf of Mexico, was the key launch customer. The company was actively involved in working with the product development advisory board on the 525 project. Said PHI chairman Al Gonsoulin at the launch: “They [Bell] are going to do what they say they are going to do, which is what we need in this industry going forward.”
|The AgustaWestland AW189 helicopter is a top candidate for offshore oil operations. |
(Photo courtesy of AgustaWestland)
In addition to the 525, Garrison touched on another successful product, the Bell 429, during his opening remarks. The reliable, technologically advanced light twin has received Transport Canada approval for a 500-pound weight increase to increase the maximum gross weight to 7,500 pounds. The additional gross weight provides greater range and loiter times, and as Garrison boasted, “no other product can compare with it in its class.” Garrison also made reference to the Bell 407GX and the 407AH, introduced at Heli Expo in 2011. Both are making a mark around the world.
Another one of Bell’s products, the V-22 Osprey, is proving to be one of the key revenue generators for the firm. Bell delivered 34 V-22s in 2011 and is scheduled to deliver 115 more through 2014. The company is looking to export the V-22 going forward to keep the production lines moving and Canada is a potential market. The aircraft could be a consideration for the Royal Canadian Air Force and potentially the open military SAR contract.
Garrison also maintained that he believes the civil helicopter industry has nowhere to go but up, and programs such as the 525 will certainly help in this regard. “As you can see, we are relentlessly pursuing the commercial business,” Garrison said. “At Bell Helicopter we play to win and we define winning as making our customers successful.”
Not To Be Outdone
While Bell Helicopter made a big splash with its relentless marketing assault and impressive new aircraft, Marignane, France-based OEM Eurocopter maintained its own significant presence with a product launch commemorating its 20th anniversary – the EC130 T2.
The EC130 T2 is an updated version of the company’s successful EC 130 aircraft, which has become a favourite of operators worldwide. Powered by Turbomeca’s Arriel 2D engine, which provides 10 per cent more average power and less specific fuel consumption than the current powerplant, the EC130 T2 provides tremendous versatility and value for operators.
“Innovation is something that is key for us, key for our customers” said Eurocopter president/CEO Lutz Bertling after the curtain was dropped on the new machine, to the delight of hundreds of onlookers. “Our understanding of innovation is turning technology into customer value. It’s all about higher, faster, farther. We are listening to our customers, listening to your advice on how to improve our products. This machine boasts more power, a new engine, which means lower costs, lower maintenance, more power and a much smoother ride.”
New and updated features in the EC130 T2 include an anti-vibration control system, improved air ventilation distributing and demisting systems, a redesigned larger cabin and enhanced man-machine cockpit interface. It’s all about maximizing value and providing top safety standards. “The anti-vibration control system is very effective, there’s a new air conditioning system (optional) which provides better conditions inside within flight, new sliding doors (optional), and of course, more safety,” Bertling said.
|Bell Helicopter president/CEO John Garrison explains Bell’s vision for the future. |
(Photo by Matt Nicholls)
“Safety is, and always will be, our number one priority. And I believe for every active OEM in this world, there can be no priority that is higher than safety,” he said. “This is why, for this helicopter, we have not only improved the man/machine interface, we’ve also improved the instrumentation to make it easier to fly for the pilot. We have also installed an energy-efficient fuel system in the helicopter to make it safer for the passengers and the pilots.”
The EC130 T2 has a maximum gross takeoff weight of 2,500 kilograms (kg) for internal loads and 3,050 kg with sling loads – and a speed increase of 10 knots. Future developments include a 1,500-kg cargo sling and an ergonomically styled interior. Obviously, the aircraft was an instant hit as no fewer than seven launch customers joined Bertling on stage to celebrate its arrival into the market.
“We strongly believe that this aircraft will set the standard for single-engine helicopters for years to come, most likely for this decade,” Bertling said. “This aircraft will dominate the tour market, will find its way into the utility market and, with its large cabin and flat floor, into the EMS market. This aircraft will be suitable for all of them.”
Prior to the launch, Bertling hosted his annual “state-of-the-industry breakfast” and predicted “slow but steady growth” going forward. And although Eurocopter has had some real achievements in its two decades of growth – it maintains 43 per cent share of the worldwide civil/parapublic market, up from 27.7 per cent in 1992, while military share has gone from 8.8 per cent to 21.5 per cent and deliveries have gone from 214 in 1992 to 503 last year – there is still much to be accomplished.
Ensuring the entry into service of the EC145 T2 and EC175 aircraft in Europe, the U.S. and Canada remains a top goal, as do larger ideas such as exploring emerging opportunities in renewable energy options such as wind farms, vertical lift commuting and renewable resource extraction. “We are certainly not the only ones who are investigating these concepts, so it’s always important to look ahead and to keep innovating,” he said.
In a Word – ‘Really Good’
You don’t have to introduce a new aircraft in a splashy display of marketing brilliance to make an impact, as the Sikorsky Aircraft Corp. proved. The Stratford, Conn.-based OEM produced plenty of panache of its own, including signing a Texas-sized contract with the U.K-based Bond Aviation Group for 16 Sikorsky S-92 helicopters.
A favourite aircraft of oil and gas operators worldwide, Sikorsky has currently replaced 66 per cent of the gear boxes in the S-92 fleet with new equipment and is also making a strong push in the offshore oil and gas market. How strong? In December of last year alone, Sikorsky booked 26 new orders for this versatile aircraft.
“We look at our product line starting with the S-92, it’s getting a great showing everywhere,” said Sikorsky president/CEO Jeff Pino in his annual “state-of-Sikorsky” address. “We have almost 400,000 flight hours on this fleet, 140 in service, we’ve built more than 180, and they are doing very well in very tough environments. It’s flexible, it’s got all the capability in the world.”
Pino said offshore oil and gas markets, particularly in the North Sea and China, will continue to drive the large-helicopter market in 2012, and with the average age of the worldwide fleet at approximately 30 years, there is plenty of opportunity out there. “What’s driving the marketplace in 2012 is clearly the nine-passenger plus market – and the age of this nine-plus size fleet,” he said. “And as you know, many of the off-shore oil contracts now require aircraft that are no more than 10 years old. So, this is what’s causing the kind of fervour you see out on the floor. We’re all very optimistic about this sector.”
Pino maintains he is also quite pleased with the diversified product base Sikorsky has created on both the military and civilian side, and is cautiously optimistic about the future. “We had 7.4 billion in sales last year, and although Eurocopter eeked us out in total sales, we have followed a tremendous growth path since 2005. What I really like about our company is our tremendous growth mix and our tremendous portfolio of products.”
In 2012, Sikorsky will start delivery on its S-76D aircraft with the first model expected out in July. Powered by twin Pratt & Whitney Canada PW210S engines with dual FADEC controls, the S-76D boasts a state-of-the-art integrated Thales cockpit, a maximum gross weight of 11,700 pounds, an ultra quiet cabin, increased range and the ability to launch in known icing conditions.
“I have flown this aircraft personally. It’s a tremendously fast, powerful aircraft and more quiet than I had envisioned,” Pino said. “It meets, right now, the proposed ICAO standards. It’s got a modern, brand new cockpit modelled on the A380 cockpit, and the new Pratt engines provide an enormous capability in virtually any environment. It’s also got active vibration control that we have on the S-92. So, what we’re positioning here, is a capable cost-effective aircraft – that’s the value proposition. It will be very competitive in its class.”
On the military side, Sikorsky remains – specifically with its iconic Blackhawk and Seahawk programs – solidly connected to the U.S. military. It is also forging ahead with its S-97 Raider program, the military variant of its revolutionary X-2 technology. The Raider has a projected top speed of 250 knots and a turning radius 50 per cent tighter than of an Apache helicopter. Its potential as a groundbreaking military aircraft is unprecedented notes Pino.
“Our military business drives 70 per cent of our company, and we have had tremendous growth,” he said. “We’ve had 20 per cent annual growth rate over the past five years. It’s the envy of the industry. Our programs are extremely solid. And any dips that we see in the U.S. military will be offset by inroads with the international military. We’re going after international military hard.”
Sikorsky took in more than $1 billion in military contracts in 2011 and expects to see $5 billion more in 2012.
The Right Model
AgustaWestland also made noise at this year’s Heli Expo, garnering international orders of close to $400 million right off the bat. A deal with Lease Corporation International of Dublin, Ireland, on the show’s second day, saw the Anglo-Italian OEM sell a fleet of AW139, the AW169 and AW189 helicopters to the Irish helicopter giant. Deliveries are expected next year.
According to AgustaWestland CEO Bruno Spagnolini, helicopter demand reminds strong and 2012 should be another solid year. A new growth cycle on the civil side is kicking in and that’s good news for the company’s most popular aircraft – the AW139, the AW169 and the new AW189. With their U.S presence continuing to grow – there have been more than 100 AW139 deliveries from the Philadelphia, Pa. assembly plant, for example – and the addition of a new facility in Arlington, Tex., where some 100-plus employees are working on the development and certification activities related to the AW609 tilt-rotor, AgustaWestland’s footprint should remain large.
The AW189 made its debut at the show, and judging by the buzz it created in on the floor, its future looks bright. Powered by twin General Electric CT7-2E1 engines and equipped with FADEC and built-in particle separators, the 19-passenger aircraft is ideally suited for the growing oil and gas market. Major operators that have purchased the aircraft include Bristow Helicopters, Bel Air and Weststar Aviation Services. Spagnolini said certification of the aircraft is on track for 2013 with deliveries expected to start the next year.
Big news from all the major helicopter manufacturers – what else would you expect from the world’s premier helicopter event deep in the heart of Texas?
There were plenty of Canadian firms making noise at this year’s show. Here’s a rundown of some top newsmakers: