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As 2017 draws to a close, we take a look through our archives to highlight the biggest stories from the last 12 months. And it’s been a busy year in the rotary-wing world. In an industry obsessed with safety, it’s no surprise that stories highlighting crashes, accidents and incidents — and their root causes — are the ones that drew the most attention. But industry innovation is also a hugely popular topic, represented by three of our top five most-viewed stories. Here, in descending order, are the 10 biggest stories on verticalmag.com this year:
On May 15, Italian investigators published their final report on the fatal crash of a Leonardo AW609 during a flight test in 2015. The aircraft, set to be the first commercial tiltrotor, crashed following a high-speed dive. The investigators said severe latero-directional oscillations during the dive were the cause of the crash, and also highlight the role played by the aircraft’s flight control system control laws, and a project simulator that “did not foresee the event in any way.”
The prototype for Sikorsky’s S-97 Raider suffered a hard landing on Aug. 2, causing significant damage to the aircraft’s landing gear. The fly-by-wire coaxial helicopter, which is being used to mature Sikorsky’s X2 technology as well as serving as a “risk reducer” for the SB-1 Defiant program, was performing a flight test at the time. In our September report on the incident and the NTSB’s and Sikorsky’s findings on the cause, the manufacturer highlighted issues with the aircraft’s flight control software as the Raider performed a vertical takeoff.
With attention on offshore operations over the North Sea heightened by a few high-profile incidents over the last few years, there was a high degree of public scrutiny over the loss of tail rotor control in a Sikorsky S-92 while landing at the West Franklin wellhead platform on Dec. 28. A special bulletin published by the U.K. Air Accidents Investigation Branch following the incident pointed to a failed bearing as the root cause.
The National Transportation Safety Board’s investigation into the fatal crash of a Flight for Life Airbus Helicopters H125 in Frisco, Colorado, in 2015, raised many important questions. From the challenges of managing the world’s largest air medical operator, to the design of the AS350’s hydraulic system, our exhaustive analysis of the investigation and the issues it highlighted was one of the most important stories we covered in 2017.
In November, Bristow shocked the industry when it revealed it had sold the Bristow Academy. The move was disclosed as the company revealed a net loss of $31.2 million in its quarterly financial results, highlighting the impact of what it called a “historic downturn” in the oil-and-gas market.
The race to develop personal vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) aircraft really gathered pace in 2017. The attention drawn by our story on the Workhorse SureFly, a two-seater aircraft lifted by eight single-blade propellers, showed there is significant interest in these aircraft within the larger rotary-wing community.
Just days after the Royal Norwegian Air Force received the first of 16 AW101s from Leonardo, the aircraft rolled onto its side during a maintenance ground run. Thankfully no one was injured during the incident, which caused “significant” damage to the aircraft, but the costly event certainly peaked the industry’s curiosity.
It’s one of the largest, most technologically advanced rotorcraft ever built, so it’s no surprise there’s great interest in the CH-53K. Vertical was lucky enough to secure an invitation to visit Sikorsky’s Development Flight Test Center in West Plam Beach, Florida, for a behind-the-scenes look at the aircraft. The resulting story, featuring discussions with the aircraft’s designers, test pilots, and program managers, gave readers new insight into the program.
Bell Helicopter made a splash at HAI Heli-Expo 2017 with the unveiling of its highly-stylized FCX-001 concept aircraft. Featuring a fan-driven anti-torque system, hybridized propulsion, morphing main rotor blade tips, and the use of augmented reality to control the aircraft, the FCX-001 was a hot topic of conversation on the show floor and throughout the industry. Our story on the aircraft’s development, from concept to full-scale mockup and virtual reality, was a popular read for many of you.
On March 14, 2017, Rescue 116 — an Irish Coast Guard Sikorsky S-92 — crashed off the west coast of Ireland, killing the two pilots and two winch operators on board. The tragic incident made headlines around the world, as investigators worked within the full glare of public attention to piece together what might have happened — and why. Elan Head’s comprehensive analysis of the Irish Air Accident Investigation Unit’s preliminary report on the crash became our most viewed story in 2017.