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Heli-Expo 2005 may well be remembered as the event when engine manufacturers flexed their muscle. Honeywell served notice it intends to aggressively restore its place as a major player in the civilian helicopter market. Pratt & Whitney Canada (P&WC) launched the PW210 (see On The Fly) and Lycoming Engine’s new general manager, Ian Walsh, openly discussed the company’s innovation strategy.


July 11, 2007
By David Carr

Heli-Expo 2005 may well be remembered as the event when engine
manufacturers flexed their muscle. Honeywell served notice it intends
to aggressively restore its place as a major player in the civilian
helicopter market. Pratt & Whitney Canada (P&WC) launched the
PW210 (see On The Fly) and Lycoming Engine’s new general manager, Ian
Walsh, openly discussed the company’s innovation strategy.

Radical
innovation does not spring instantly to mind when thinking of Lycoming,
a reliable engine manufacturer that has steadily built up an impressive
70% share of the US piston-powered helicopter fleet on the strength of
fine-tuning 60-year-old designs.

“That installed base is really
solid. It is no different than Bell with a strong base in the
marketplace,” Walsh told Helicopters. “We’re not departing from what
we’re very good at. But one reason we have established a large share
was because we didn’t have strong competition in the past. Now we do.”

Walsh,
who cut his teeth on Textron military programs while still a student,
is pegging the future on a new generation of engines that will be
lighter, smarter and less reliant on traditional fuel sources. One of
the most lucrative test beds for this innovation has been the
experimental aircraft market. “The experimental market is growing
rapidly. I don’t think there is one single thing you can hang your hat
on and say that is the reason why it is growing. But I think that it
presents a very attractive opportunity for us,” he said.

Lycoming is using experimental aircraft to test-drive the IO-390-X, a fourcylinder engine rated at 210 hp at 2,700 rpm.

Still,
Lycoming’s greatest opportunity to increase market share lies in
smarter engines and diesel-fuelled engines. “Look at commercial and
military aviation. Fire up the cockpit and you’ve got a liquid crystal
display that can tell you the exact health of your airframe. I would
like to see that in the general aviation market,” Walsh said. “Sensor
technology and individual awareness. It is clear to me that this is the
differential that will move us forward.”

He compares the
evolution of the smart engine with the cat-and-mouse game that has
defined home computers. Software develops to the point where computer
hardware has to catch up. “They are always playing off of each other.
Airframe technology can increase and cockpit technology can increase.
But it is up to us to make sure engine technology keeps pace.”

For
now at least, Lycoming is content to exploit the piston market without
taking a step up into turbine. “I think there is an interesting dynamic
between pistonengine technology and turbine-engine technology. There is
a race to get to the middle. Higher horsepower and better materials for
us. Micro turbine and greater efficiency for them,” Walsh noted.
“Everybody wants more horsepower and they want lighter weight.”

Diesel
is a different matter, with Lycoming committed to leading the market by
developing a line of diesel engines. “Is there a demand for greater
fuel efficiency? Absolutely,” Walsh said. “But it is not necessarily
going to be driven by fuel prices. Operators are going to look for
choice. That translates into platforms that can use alternative fuels
and offer greater flexibility.”

Finally, what will be the
emerging trend in the civilian helicopter market over the next 25
years? “I don’t want to put a time line on it, but you are going to see
infrastructure development to support vertical-lift technology being
completely integrated with bus stations, train stations and as air
taxis to airports,” he said. Keeping one step ahead of that trend
should be enough to cement Lycoming’s market position for years to come.


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