Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow

It’s December, the last month of the year, and we all know what that means as far as holidays, shopping and parties go. I thought it would also be a good time to take a quick look back at some of the highlights of 2013 and to look ahead as to what we might expect in 2014.

In January, we learned that Chongqing Helicopter Investment Co. Ltd (CQHIC), located in Chongqing, China, acquired Enstrom Helicopter Corporation. CQHIC is focused on helping Enstrom expand its reach into China and the rest of the world.

February saw a record-setting Heli-Expo in Las Vegas.

March saw the revolutionary AgustaWestland “Project Zero” all-electric tiltrotor technology demonstrator on display at Heli-Expo. The future is alive and well.

In May, we learned that AgustaWestland will open a second production line for the new AW169 medium-twin helicopter at its manufacturing facility in Philadelphia. According to AgustaWestland, the Philadelphia plant will deliver its first AW169 in 2015 and eventually ramp up production to 20 aircraft per year by 2017.

On June 7, we saw Eurocopter’s X3 achieve an unofficial helicopter speed milestone by attaining 255 knots true airspeed (KTAS) (around 293 mph or 472 km/hour) while in level flight. By achieving the 255-knot mark, Eurocopter exceeded Sikorsky’s unofficial helicopter speed record set on Sept. 15, 2010, with its X2 technology demonstrator, which reached speeds of 250 KTAS in level flight and 260 KTAS in a shallow dive.

June also brought the Paris Air Show, and Bell Helicopter announced its return to the short light single (SLS) engine helicopter market with a new helicopter designed to specifications based on the input of a customer advisory council. Bell Helicopter’s new, five-seat entry-level aircraft is expected to complete its first flight in 2014 with certification to follow as quickly as possible.

August saw Sikorsky Aircraft uncover its plans for unmanned and optionally piloted flights in the helicopter industry. It started with the name Matrix Technology, which is described as an “architecture of either software and hardware components, or it could be applications that enable autonomous execution of complex rotorcraft missions in close proximity to obstacles,” with an emphasis on improving safety and reliability.

August started with one of the deadliest wildfire seasons in recent memory, with helicopter operators actively engaged in fighting wildfires across the entire western United States.

It was unclaimed for 33 years, but September saw the Igor Sikorsky Human-Powered Helicopter Award (a $250,000 engineering prize) go to the University of Toronto for an aircraft called Atlas, which weighs 121.4 pounds and spans 162 feet. The record-setting, pedal-powered flight lasted 69.3 seconds and reached an altitude of 3.3 meters (10.83 feet).

Unfortunately, 2013 proved to be a costly year for the global helicopter industry in terms of fatal accidents. Bob Sheffield, a member of the International Helicopter Safety Team (IHST) and AgustaWestland’s Senior Advisor for safety and fleet operational improvement, said that, “some regions are going the wrong way in terms of helicopter accident statistics. The global trend is a slightly declining number of accidents per 100,000 flight hours. At 5.7, it is still too high to leave room for reaching the target of 1.9 (accidents per 100,000 hours) in 2016 set by the IHST. It seems to be an uphill fight to reduce helicopter accidents.”

On a positive note, civil and military rotorcraft operators will require 16,126 new helicopters worth $193.1 billion during the next decade, according to the Teal Group’s annual world rotorcraft review released Sept. 24 at the Helitech International 2013 conference in London. The 10-year forecast projects civil users will require 10,308 rotorcraft worth $60.3 billion, and the military will require 5,818 new helicopters worth $132.8 billion through 2022.

Last but not least on our list of notable events, HeliMx magazine underwent a name change to Helicopter Maintenance magazine. This more readily conveys what we are all about.

What 2014 will have in store for us is anyone’s guess. I don’t have a crystal ball, but here are a few things I would like to see:

• Helicopter accidents decrease significantly across the board

• An increasing number of young people going to school to get their A&P licenses

• An increase in the number of helicopter operators offering an apprenticeship program

• An increase in hiring across the entire spectrum of the helicopter industry

• An increase in the availability and use of electronic media in the classroom, to facilitate learning anywhere and anytime.

If you want to share your views and thoughts on what you want to see in 2014, please write to me. I will gladly share your thoughts with our other readers. 

As 2013 comes to a close and 2014 is about to make its entrance, we at Helicopter Maintenancemagazine wish you and your families a joyous holiday season, and a healthy, happy and prosperous new year. 

Fred Polak  |  Editor