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Airbus Helicopters has confirmed the second prototype (PT2) of its H160 will be at its booth at HAI Heli-Expo 2018 in Las Vegas, Nevada, before embarking on a three-month tour of the U.S. for demonstration and test flights.
The appearance at Heli-Expo will represent the first time an H160 prototype has been displayed at a tradeshow — until now, attendees have seen only a full-scale mockup of the 5.7-tonne aircraft.
The aircraft’s test pilots will be at the manufacturer’s booth to share their experience with the aircraft, said Luc Bentolila, head of marketing and sales development at Airbus Helicopters, adding that the manufacturer has been “extremely happy” with the feedback it received from the demonstration flights it performed last year.
“[The] first flights have confirmed that the 160 [will] provide new standards of flight experience for passengers and crews with a very smooth flight and unprecedented low level of vibration,” he said during a presentation for aviation media in mid-February. “The pilots who have flown on the aircraft have praised the maturity of the prototype, the visibility and the simplicity to fly [it].”
The manufacturer is clearly hoping that a similar reaction in the States during the upcoming demonstration tour will result in the confirmation of some sales in the country. Airbus is developing the H160 with the expectation it will help it regain a significant share of the medium twin market, but heading to Las Vegas it had only a memorandum of understanding with Falcon Aviation in terms of publicly-declared customer commitments.
That said, Airbus is hopeful it will have contract announcements to make at the show.
“We are finalizing discussions and negotiations with customers, [so] we cannot announce name of customer to sign [at the moment],” said Bentolila. “It depends on the customer willingness to share that, which is being discussed right now.”
Bernard Fujarski, head of the H160 program, said the state of the market had impacted the desire of customers to make early commitments.
“It has been more difficult than we expected — the market is not extremely demanding at this stage, and all the customers are really taking care about the way they are investing,” he said. “But I’m sure that we will execute contracts this year for sure.”
Airbus is currently targeting June 2019 for certification from the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), and said most of the required tests will be completed by the end of this year.
Certification from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) could follow about six months later, said Fujarski, adding that the timeline would be dependent on landing a launch customer in the U.S. The manufacturer will not pursue FAA certification of the H160 until it has one, and the same logic will apply in other regions.
Following the show, the aircraft will be available for demonstration flights with prospective customers, and will complete the expansion of its flight envelope with hot and high testing in Leadville, Colorado. It will also be flown by Federal Aviation Administration officials for familiarization flights to help speed up the certification process with the agency.
“It’s good to have the FAA involved very closely with everything we are doing now instead of running after approval [after EASA certification] in a hurry,” said Fujarski.
Completing the flight program
A third H160 prototype — the final aircraft before the first “pre-serial” model — joined the flight program in October 2017, and between them, the three prototypes have now flown about 650 hours. Airbus expects to have flown more than 1,000 hours on the type by the time the first aircraft enters service.
The main changes between PT2 and PT3 were related to the location of equipment — primarily avionics — within the aircraft, said Fujarski.
Last year, the program completed cold weather testing in temperatures below -40 C (-40 F) in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, as well as lightning indirect effect tests. With tests continuing apace in the U.S. and Europe in the months ahead, Airbus hopes to be able to hand in more than 50 percent of the required paperwork for certification to EASA by the end of this year.
Regarding the H160’s Safran Arrano engines — currently slated for certification later this year — Fujarski said they have been performing better than expected.
“The performance, the fuel burn, the emissions, and I must say the weight as well… we are quite happy about our partnership with Safran Helicopter Engines, they have been on time and on specification so far.”
In parallel to the progression of the H160’s engineering program, Airbus has established a new industrial model for the development of its aircraft, with the aircraft’s design, production and support teams working together to define the specification of the final product on the prototype and pre-serial airframes, and using 3D more extensively throughout the process than on any airframe before.
Not only will this reduce the time from final configuration of a customer’s aircraft to delivery to as little as 24 weeks (about half the current time for the manufacturer’s helicopters), but it will help ensure a high level of maturity at entry into service, said Fujarski.
The first pre-serial aircraft (PS2 — there is no PS1 aircraft) is now occupying one of five stations on the newly-built final assembly line at the manufacturer’s headquarters in Marignane, France. This aircraft will ultimately become the first aircraft delivered to a customer — planned for the end of 2019.
According to Airbus, PS2 has seen major modifications regarding weight saving, especially on the airframe, which has resulted in a reduction of more than 200 kilograms (440 pounds) from the first prototype.
There will be another eight pre-serial H160s, with PS6 to PS10 used to test the full flow line of production at the facility. When that flow line is in place — estimated for the end of 2020 — Airbus hopes to be able to take aircraft from start to finish on the assembly line in just 40 days.
With the one line in place, Airbus believes it can produce up to 30 H160s a year, but as demand increases, it plans to introduce a second final assembly line that will allow to deliver more than 50 aircraft annually. A third line would be introduced if a prospective order for 160 H160s from the French ministry of defense is placed.
The aircraft will originally be offered in one of three configurations: offshore/onshore transport, emergency medical services, and VIP. A search-and-rescue/public service configuration is likely to follow two years after certification, said Fujarski.