Rotorcraft Report

Roundup of latest rotorcraft industry news.

With the V-280 Built, Bell Looks Ahead to Ground, Flight Testing

Bell Helicopter has completed assembly of its first V-280 Valor prototype. The manufacturer said it hopes to fly the tiltrotor later this year, and its team is now preparing for initial ground runs at its assembly plant in Amarillo, Texas.

Bell said it designed the advanced tiltrotor using lessons learned from production and operation of the V-22 Osprey. The company is seeking to simplify the mechanics of tiltrotor technology. It also looks to reduce parts counts and boost reliability and maintainability, according to V-280 Program Manager Chris Gehler.

The V-22 wing is swept forward slightly and the entire engine nacelles at the wingtips rotate vertically, a major source of reliability issues for the Osprey. On the V-280, the wingtip engines are stationary and the proprotors rotate.

The V-280 is one of two candidates in the U.S. Army’s Joint Multirole Technology Demonstration (JMR-TD) that is intended to inform aircraft and system design for the follow-on Future Vertical Lift family of next-generation aircraft. The other aircraft participating in the demonstration is the Sikorsky Boeing SB>1 Defiant, based on the Sikorsky S-97 Raider. It employs coaxial main rotors and an aft pusher propeller to achieve the fast-yet-maneuverable capability the Army desires. The Defiant is scheduled for a first flight some time in early 2018. RWI

Investors Are Backing Air Taxis, Flying Cars with Millions of US Dollars

German flying car startup Lilium Aviation has completed a Series B funding round worth $90 million. The company said Sept. 5 the investment would be used for the development of its five-seat Lilium Jet and for the development of its team.

In December 2016, the company said it had completed a Series A funding round worth more than $10.7 million.

Lilium’s Eagle Lilium Jet prototype made its maiden flight in April.Photo courtesy of Lilium

In a related development, XTI Aircraft has resumed its equity crowdfunding campaign for its TriFan 600, after what CEO Robert Labelle told R&WI was a week of downtime.

In September 2016, XTI said it engaged the New York investment bank Primary Capital, LLC for its $20 million Series B round.

In another development, the founder and managing director of Linse Capital, Michael Linse, said at April’s Uber Elevate Summit, that he and his business partner were launching Levitate Capital — an investment firm that writes checks exclusively for VTOL technology.

Urban air taxis and other VTOL flying car models may initially cause incredulous reactions. But companies are hiring experienced aviation professionals and gaining the confidence of investors. “As the industry matures, we’re going to be looking to deploy larger checks to the companies that we think are going to be the winners in the industry,” Linse said at the summit in Dallas. “We’re very much looking to identify the companies who we think will, in the next 10 years, be the winners in this space and deploy much larger check sizes behind that.” RWI

Cal Fire Picks S-70i to Replace Hueys

California’s Forestry and Fire Protection Dept. intends to award a team led by Air Methods, as prime contractor, a five-year contract to customize 12 Sikorsky S-70i aircraft as replacements for its obsolescent fleet of a dozen Bell Helicopter UH-1Hs.

At press time in mid-September, a judge in California’s capital, Sacramento, was preparing to hear an appeal of the department’s intent to award the contract by Leonardo Helicopters.

The Forestry and Fire Protection Dept., known as Cal Fire, said its Hueys have served it well, thanks in large part to its FAA award-winning maintenance program and skilled pilots. But it is increasingly difficult to keep the aircraft flying.

“We are at the stage where we’ve exhausted a finite supply of parts,” Janet Upton of Cal Fire told R&WI.

The first of the new helicopters, which will carry a price tag of about $20 million piece (training and life-cycle costs included), are to be delivered within about a year – barring the contract award protest.

Air Methods’ United Rotorcraft unit had been working with Sikorsky and its other team members since April to craft a winning bid for new helicopters to perform aerial firefighting and other missions. They were competing against Leonardo and its AW189.

Leonardo filed a protest Aug. 4, the deadline to contest the Aug. 2 intent-to-award announcement, California’s General Services Dept. told R&WI. The planned Sept. 13 and 14 protest hearing was within the 60-day window laid out by the department’s procedures.

Cal Fire Feb. 27 issued a request for proposals (RFP) for FAA-certificated Super Huey replacement helicopters that could carry nine passengers, cruise at at least 135 kt and bear a minimum useful load of 5,000 pounds and minimum external load of 4,800 pounds. The agency also said it wanted a helicopter that could carry a 500-gallon water tank and perform vertical reference work with a single pilot flying on the lefthand side of the aircraft.

If Air Methods secures the contract, Sikorsky’s PZL Mielec subsidiary in Poland would build the International Black Hawks there and ship them to the U.S.

According to individuals familiar with the proposal, other team members include Axnes, Becker Avionics and Churchill Navigation, which would provide onboard avionics, communication and mapping systems.

Breeze-Eastern also is on the team. It would provide the aircraft’s cargo hook, while UTC Aerospace would provide its hoist.

Another team member, Air Comm, would provide the environmental conditioning system, while Kawak Aviation would develop a new-generation water tank for the firefighting helicopters.

FlightSafety international and FX, LLC of Camarillo, California, are to develop training systems for the new aircraft. Cal Fire’s RFP set a preference that training include the use of an FAA-approved flight simulator and “shall not be done purchased Cal Fire aircraft” without agreement by the department’s project manager. RWI

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