It's Electric

Another year, another HeliExpo looms as the helicopter market is both on a cautious upswing and realizing some major changes from within.

Another year, another HeliExpo looms as the helicopter market is both on a cautious upswing and realizing some major changes from within.

In our cover story, Assistant Editor Frank Wolfe details one of the most significant technological shifts in recent memory: the rise and imminent — according to some — deployment of passenger-carrying electric vertical takeoff and landing vehicles, or eVTOLs.

Just about every known aircraft manufacturer and backyard tinkerer has jumped in the game, but the big boys Bell, Boeing, Airbus and Leonardo are out front, at least with the maturity of their designs. Other companies like Joby Aviation also have made significant strides toward a potentially certifiable eVTOL.

All of it was on display in Mesa, Arizona, at the Vertical Flight Society’s eVTOL Symposium and Frank brought back the story about how eVTOLs could potentially be life-savers before they ever save people from traffic-clogged commutes.

Meanwhile, the traditional rotorcraft market is set to grow — if modestly — in 2019, as Frank points out in his breakdown of predicted annual sales.

Similar flight controls and infrastructure technologies to those that will launch eVTOL as an industry could rescue the single-engine helicopter community from avoidable fatal accidents in bad weather. A 1999 change in FAA policy rendered certifying single-engine rotorcraft to fly in bad weather with instruments prohibitively expensive and time consuming.

Pilots I spoke to who routinely flew single-engine IFR prior to 1999 told me almost all certification of one-engine helicopters came to an abrupt stop with the policy change. It’s an issue of both convenience and safety to them and they insist rotorcraft and avionics technology has entered the 20th century while the FAA’s certification process is stuck 20 years in the past.

Changing along with the aircraft are their powerplants, with most major engine manufacturers rolling out new, more powerful design and hybrid/electric models, according to contributor Mark Robins. In his engine feature, Mark briefly profiles several of the largest engine manufacturers in the world and discusses the recent award of a $517 million engineering contract to GE Aviation to develop a drop-in replacement for the U.S. Army’s Apaches and Black Hawks.

David Walsh discusses those military helicopters and their venerable predecessors in a survey of the history of multirole helicopters. Patrick Gray brings us a day-in-the-life profile of an offshore pilot flying over the Gulf of Mexico with Westwind Helicopters Senior Pilot Al Nichols in a Bell 407.

In the back of the book, you’ll find a “military mystery” about a video of the SB-1 Defiant that showed up online…and nobody knows how. As a reporter who formerly covered the military exclusively, I’m experimenting with this occasional feature that will run when we have space and I have an interesting tale to tell.

Happy Reading and Happy HeliExpo.

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