Airbus H160 entry into service slips to late 2019

The H160, which Airbus Helicopters is developing to regain a significant share on the medium twin market, is halfway into its flight test campaign but will not enter service until late 2019, due to the redesign of some dynamic components.

Airbus H160 helicopter
More than 550 hours have been flown on the H160 program, mostly by the first two prototypes. Anthony Pecchi Photo
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The H160’s Safran Arrano turboshaft engine is scheduled to be certified late in 2018, without any major delay. But the situation is different for the airframe. Now planned for the end of 2019, the aircraft’s entry into service had originally been envisaged for 2018.

“We had several technical issues ; redesigning a part can take several months and some complex parts have long production cycles,” head of program Bernard Fujarski explained. For instance, the loads measured on some components of the main gearbox in flight test were higher than expected.

Slightly more than 550 flight hours have been accumulated, mostly by the first two prototypes. The third and final prototype entered service in October and has since flown about 20 hours. Testing has begun on an inlet barrier filter that is expected to be useful in harsh environments, such as desert and polluted cities, Fujarski said.

Certification testing of the aircraft is in progress and will account for most of flight testing activity next year. Although some evaluations in snowy conditions have already been performed, Airbus is keeping one of the prototypes ready for further flying in similar weather. The goal is to find a heavy snowfall with “very wet” snow, as required for certification.

As for hot weather, enough data has been gathered for certification, Fujarski said. But Airbus wants to “go beyond” that initial set of data and is considering a dedicated test campaign next year, probably in the U.S.

Flight-test crews are still assessing various settings on the biplane stabilizer, which has been designed for improved main rotor efficiency.

The fuselage of the first customer aircraft is to arrive late this year at the Marignane, France, final assembly line (FAL). It is being manufactured at another Airbus facility in Donauwörth, Germany. The first customer aircraft is scheduled to fly in October 2018.

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The airframer is keeping quiet on sales, not giving any indication of the number of orders – if any. From late 2022, Airbus plans to manufacture 40 copies of the H160 every year. The objective is to “restore the market share we had in the Dauphin’s most successful years – 40 percent,” Fujarski said. The Leonardo AW139 is seen as the main competitor.

The French ministry of defense is considering ordering 160 H160s for its various forces – the army, the air force and the navy. The first two FALs for the H160 will have a combined capacity of “50 to 55” aircraft per year. France’s military order, if confirmed, may imply the creation of a third FAL.

To prepare the H160’s entry into service, the manufacturer launched an “Operator Zero” effort last summer. Putting themselves in the shoes of an operator, Airbus maintenance engineers perform the actions on the prototypes that an operator would perform on their aircraft. The maintenance instructions the Airbus employees use are identical – with leeway for improvement – to the ones for production aircraft. Operators witness the maintenance and advise the manufacturer.

A full flight simulator, designed by Thales, is planned to be ready as soon as the first aircraft is delivered.

In addition to the biplane stabilizer, the H160 features numerous innovations. They include Blue Edge main rotor blades for quieter operation and greater lift, the house-developed Helionix avionics suite that can be found on the H145 and H175, a full composite airframe, and an electric landing gear.

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