Van Horn Aviation (VHA) of Tempe, Arizona, exists for one reason only: to bring composite rotor blade technology to legacy helicopter operators at a reasonable price. The company is in various stages of designing, developing, certifying, and manufacturing composite main and tail rotor blades for various helicopters.
Currently, the company offers Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)-certified composite tail rotor blades for the UH-1 Huey, Bell 206B/L, and OH-58A+/C, and main rotor blades for the Bell 206B (with 206L main blades to be certified by the end of 2017). Some products have also received certification by the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), Transport Canada, and other aviation authorities. VHA is also developing main and tail rotor blades for the MD Helicopters MD 500 series, and Bell 412/212 tail rotor blades.
“We are absolutely passionate about making the most reliable, long-lived, and performance-enhancing composite blades for these legacy helicopters,” said VHA president Dean Rosenlof. “We are constantly tweaking our designs as new improvements are developed; being a small firm with a single mission, VHA can do this quickly. This is why our composite rotor blades generally offer superior yet quieter performance compared to the original metal blades designed decades ago.”
The benefits VHA’s composite rotor blades provide to UH-1 and 206/OH-58 owners are reduced direct operating costs, longer blade life, and enhanced helicopter performance — all at a reasonable price. This is because the company is constantly seeking ways to control manufacturing costs through better design and streamlined processes.
“Being helicopter pilots ourselves, we understand how much price increases affect the buying power of rotorcraft owners,” said Rosenlof. “By keeping our prices down, we are making it possible for a broad range of UH-1 and 206/OH-58 owners to install our composite rotor blades, and enjoy superior performance compared to the original metal blades.”
In a bid to always produce better blades, VHA is constantly investing money into research and development, while employing the most modern manufacturing machinery in its facility. This technology includes several vertical computer numerically controlled (CNC) machining centers, a horizontal machining center, waterjet, gantry mill, metallic processing tanks, and autoclaves.
“All of this state-of-the-art equipment allows us to manufacture composite rotor blades with extreme precision and consistency,” said VHA general manager Austin Schneider. “At the same time, we build our own molds and tooling, thus reducing costs by not buying these items from vendors. Making our own molds and tooling also gives us more control over product quality, and lets us incorporate new processes quickly.”
It takes approximately four weeks for VHA to manufacture a 206B main rotor blade. The process starts with the blades’ various raw materials from carbon fiber to titanium being ordered, received, inspected, logged in, cleaned, and prepped for manufacturing. The materials are cut and made into kits, then laid up and cured in the blade molds.
Once the composite blades have completed their curing cycles and been removed from their molds, the blades’ edges and surfaces are precisely machined to specified tolerances. The required root grips, bushings, bearings, abrasion strips and tip weights–many of which are produced in-house on VHA’s machining centers–are then installed. VHA even electroforms its own abrasion strips for the main blades, exceeding the quality of third-party supplied abrasion strips at a lower cost.
After assembly, the blades are cleaned and painted, followed by blade pairing and balancing before sending them out to customers.
Mindful that worker morale also plays a central role in product quality, VHA has done its best to provide a great work environment for its employees. “Our facility is modern, and designed to allow our people to work productively, comfortably, and with a minimum of frustration,” said Schneider.
In fact, VHA’s plant offers a clean, well-lit, air-conditioned work environment with a well-stocked break room and periodic company-wide events. Employee benefits include 100 percent family health care coverage, three weeks’ paid vacation upon joining the company, and a matching 401(k) program.
“It is plain common sense that happy, well-treated employees make the best products,” said Rosenlof. “At VHA, one reason why we can do so much for our customers is because our people are motivated, and in tune with what management is trying to achieve. The quality you’ll consistently find in our rotor blades is as much a reflection of how much our people care, as it is due to the quality of our certified designs and the precision of our manufacturing processes.”
Add in solid after-sales service and support from both VHA and its distributors–including its exclusive distribution partner for the 206/OH-58 blades, Aeronautical Accessories — and VHA’s composite rotor blades are natural choices for UH-1 and 206/OH-58 owners. When they install VHA blades on their rotorcraft, these owners experience better performance with less pilot fatigue and lower direct operating costs (DOCs) when the blades go to life.
“Everyone at Van Horn Aviation loves the Huey and 206/OH-58,” concluded Dean Rosenlof. “This is why we are so passionate about making the very best composite rotor blades for these hard-working rotorcraft.”
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