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The Maximum Pilot View Kit includes two major components — a bubble door that has a huge, single-piece window, and a lower floor window. Swiss Rotor Solutions Photos
A new visibility kit for the Airbus Helicopters’ AS350/H125 AStar that promises to allow pilots to see 10 times more of the scene below their aircraft has completed its flight test program — a major landmark in its progression towards certification.
The Maximum Pilot View Kit, produced by Swiss Rotor Solutions, includes two major components — a bubble door that has a huge, single-piece window, and a lower floor window. The bubble door provides more space for the pilot’s head — and an uninterrupted view — while he or she looks down into the lower floor window, which Swiss Rotor Solutions said is 350 percent the size of the standard AStar floor window. The company said the kit will increase efficiency of operations while making them safer, giving the pilot an increased view of the load below them.
“The AS350 (H125) is one of the best helicopters in its class [and] the most sold helicopter in its category,” Patrick Andri, chief operating officer of Swiss Rotor Solutions, told Vertical. “It has very good performance, versatility, safety, low maintenance, [and] low acquisition costs, compared to other helicopters in its class.
“There is just one very big problem and that’s the vertical visibility,” Andri continued. “My business partner, Thomas Bolzli, CEO, is a pilot and has thousands of [flight] hours in that helicopter. He had the idea [for the Maximum Pilot View Kit] because he always struggled with the vertical reference visibility. He [wanted to] come up with a solution instead of compromises — like [a] mirror or small window — so that’s why we started this project.”
According to Andri, while the origins of the project go back about 10 years ago, it has only been in the last three years — since the launch of Swiss Rotor Solutions in 2013 — that they have focused on developing this product.
The kit has been test flown using one of Swiss operator Air-Glacier’s aircraft in Hanover, Germany, and completed its final high altitude test on April 7 in Switzerland. With testing complete, Swiss Rotor Solutions is expecting the kit to receive its supplemental type certificate (STC) from the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) within the next couple of months.
“We already have 15 orders for the kits [in Europe], and a whole bunch [of operators] are waiting for the STC,” said Andri. Once EASA certification is in hand, the company will apply for Federal Aviation Administration and Transport Canada validation.
The kit is estimated to take up to 120 man hours to install, and Swiss Rotor Solutions, together with its partners, can provide that service if requested.
“Basically, we want to meet the customer’s needs,” said Andri. “Therefore, we are going to provide a global distribution and installation network with experienced partners. If the customer has its own maintenance organization or preferred maintenance partner, Swiss Rotor Solutions provides the necessary training and expertise . . . together with the elected partners to guarantee high quality installation.”
The cost of the installation is still being finalized, but Andri estimated it to be about €48,000 (US$55,000) for the whole kit, which includes the bubble door, the upper window and the lower window, a removable cover for the lower winder, the lower fixed frame, and a step. The total weight is around five kilograms (11 pounds).
Pilots can simply place the cover over the lower window using two simple latches. The cover can hold about 300 kilograms in weight, allowing the pilot to easily step out of the aircraft.
The kit also includes a fan installed on the lower window to stop the glass from fogging up. “The tube, which originally blows underneath the seat of the pilot, we redirect[ed] that and had a pilot-controlled vent installed, blowing the hot air on the lower window, and [the air] then goes up and prevents the window from fogging,” said Andri.
The company is in the final stages of preparation for series production of the kit, and this is expected to begin in the next few weeks. To support the roll-out of the kit, Swiss Rotor Solutions is establishing a comprehensive stock of spare parts and a 24/7 customer support service headed by Erich Imboden, the company’s highly-experienced aircraft engineer.
The kit has been test flown using one of Swiss operator Air-Glacier’s aircraft in Hanover, Germany, and completed its final high altitude test on April 7 in Switzerland.
While the kit is being developed for retrofit on AS350 models, the company is taking part in negotiations with Airbus to have it available as an option for new aircraft, and Andri said the kit could also be adapted onto other aircraft types, too. “If it makes sense economically, then yes, we would consider it,” he said.
Andri said that because the kit increases safety in daily operation, customers may see a reduction on their insurance costs; Swiss Rotor Solutions has spoken to a “global player” in aircraft insurance who has confirmed that an AStar with the kit installed would have its insurance costs reduced by up to 15 percent. “Thus, the kit could be amortized within a few years,” said Andri.
Swiss Rotor Solutions has provided a 360-degree cockpit animation video, which provides viewers the opportunity to move inside an interactive cockpit with the Maximum Pilot View Kit.
Although the kit is not yet certified, Andri said the company has seen enormous interest in its potential from prospective clients at tradeshows. “We have a huge, huge demand in the industry all over the world, specifically in Europe, and North and South America,” said Andri. “They all want to have [the Maximum Pilot View Kit] – it’s what they’ve been waiting for.”
The company is inviting operators to see and test the prototype in Switzerland from the end of April.