Joining Westland Helicopters Ltd. in 1975 as a researcher in aerodynamics and eventual Head of Future Projects, Dr. Ron Smith talks about faster helicopters and the future of rotorcraft in an interview with alternative aviation news site, Husk-Kit.
When asked about which effort to produce faster helicopters seems most promising, Smith thinks that it would be between Sikorsky’s designs and the tilt-rotor designs such as the AW609, or the Bell V-280 Valor. Smith explains that Sikorsky has, since the XH59A achieved max speeds of 274 mph in 1973, followed the ABC or Advancing Blade Concept which uses two contra-rotating rotors to maintain balance and auxiliary propulsion to achieve high speeds. Sikorsky found further success in 2008 when the X2 reached speeds of 290 mph, and in 2015 with the S-97 Raider, which boasts cruising speeds of 253 mph.
When asked about why helicopters seem to be limited at 200 mph, Smith explains that for safety and noise control, manufacturers tend to restrict the flight envelope to around 200 mph or less. Helicopter rotation is usually around 650-700ft/sec, and on the retreating side, local speeds get reduced and ultimately lead to blade stall and stall flutter, which can cause fatigue damage to the key helicopter rotors system components. While doing things such as adding an auxiliary wing and thrust devices can push the flight envelope to 250 mph, this creates a different configuration known as a compound helicopter.
And when asked about the future of tilt-rotors, Smith answers, the problem is not in the design or the success of tilt-rotors, but in whether they can be financed. Smith points out that the V-22 Osprey, a tilt-rotor with Congressional backing and sufficient funds, still took 18 years between first flight and operational deployment.
This past week, Airbus Helicopters delivered the company’s two-hundredth H145 to Norsk Luftambulanse, also known as NOLAS. Norsk Luftambulanse, an air rescue operator, will utilize the H145 for helicopter emergency medical services (HEMS) in Norway. The delivery of this two-hundredth H145 is the last helicopter to complete NOLAS’ current order with Airbus. This brings their Airbus fleet to 8 H145s and 7 H135s. These helicopters are used to bring services to HEMS from different bases across Norway.
Even before Norsk Luftambulanse’s commencement as Norway’s national helicopter emergency medical services operator in June, the company will be the sole air ambulance operator to utilize a full Helionix-equipped fleet of both H135s and H145s. NOLA’s global H145 fleet has reached over 100,000 hours of flight since the helicopter’s entry into service in 2015. Babcock, the largest global operator for the H145, operates a fleet of thirty-one H145s for both HEMS and police missions. G-SASS, which is a H145 flown by Babcock for the Scottish Ambulance Service, leads the global fleet of H145 with over 2,500 hours of flight.
The H145 family, which also consists of the EC145 and BK117, has collected over five million flight hours with over 1,400 helicopters transported to this day. The H145 is known as the most advanced unit of Airbus Helicopters’, multi-use, twin-engine category. The H145 is the aircraft of choice for high intensity operations for a variety of different missions (like military and HEMS) for several reasons. It is compact in size, possess a large and flexible cabin while still being easily reconfigured, boasts the lowest maintenance costs in its class, and is fueled by powerful engines as well as the Helionix avionic suite with 4-axis autopilot.
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