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Heli-Expo 2015: Introducing the H160

3rd March 2015 - 16:05 GMT | by Beth Maundrill, Tony Skinner in Orlando

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Airbus Helicopters’ secretive X4 medium helicopter project has finally emerged from the shadows, with the unveiling of the H160 at Heli-Expo.

Very much emblematic of wider changes at the company, the H160 has already been confidently dubbed ‘the AW139 killer’ by CEO Guillaume Faury, in a clear statement of intent from the manufacturer.

Indeed, the tagline is that the H160 will be ‘born ready’. The 5.5-6t aircraft will be capable of carrying 12 passengers up to 120nm, provide a smooth ride at 160kts cruise speed and be capable of hovering out of ground effect at 5,000ft.

Promising performance comparable to the AW139 but expected to weigh around a tonne lighter at MTOW, the H160 features design innovations including a full composite airframe, five Blue Edge rotor blades, a fenestron canted by 12°, a biplane stabiliser, electric landing gear and choice of new-generation turboshaft engines.

In addition, to underscore the fact the type is the first to be introduced to market under the Airbus Helicopters brand, the H160 is also the first to adopt the company’s new naming convention.

From 1 January 2016, all helicopters in the range will be given the ‘H’ designation (with the initial exception of the AS365 and AS332) in a replication of how the company’s civil airliner division names its aircraft.

With a first flight scheduled for this year, order books for the H160 will open in 2016 for first deliveries from 2018. Airbus expects its latest helicopter to beat the availability rate of the EC175 ‘from day one’, with an ambitious target of higher than 95%.

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Faury explained that, following a fresh look at the data gathered through customer advisory teams, the X4 project was refocused to concentrate on the aircraft’s fuel efficiency, reliability and availability, as well as the industrialisation of the product. 

While such technologies as the revolutionary cockpit alluded to by former Eurocopter CEO Lutz Bertling in recent years as well as the idea of fly-by-wire flight controls were subsequently rejected, the general shape of the aircraft benefits from all the work done in the concept phase.

Faury claimed that the H160 will be the leader in the medium segment in terms of performance, safety levels, reliability, availability, cost-effectiveness, and comfort of passengers due its low level of vibration and low noise.

‘I believe the one [the AW139] that has taken the big share of the market today will have difficulties to compete with the H160 on all of those parameters. This is the reason why customers will move in the direction of the H160. This is clearly the next generation, the new generation in the segment and it is much better than its predecessors… it’s an AW139 killer,’ he stated.

‘The positioning of the AW139 is clearly today the best and we are putting in the same position a helicopter that is much better in all dimensions. That’s why we have repositioned the aircraft in this segment and we have changed the size, weight and the power available to be completely competitive.’

This required a significant engine power increase and the decision was made to drop the option of Pratt & Whitney (P&W) Canada's PW210E engine from the programme, the company announced on 18 February.

The H160 had expected to be released with a choice of engine – the Turbomeca Arrano 1A (TM800) or the Pratt & Whitney Canada PW210 – and with the former not due to be certified until 2017, it is regarded as more capable of being uprated over the lift of the programme. 

While the Arrano has long been described as being in the 1,100shp- class, the engine manufacturer has more recently begun describing it as falling into the ‘1,100shp to 1300shp category’.

A source at Airbus Helicopters said it made sense to channel funds into one engine upgrade programme, rather than two, so the PW210 would not be offered as an option as a result.

The H160 also features the latest version of the company’s Helionix avionics suite, which is based on 6x8in multifunctional displays. With Helionix also featuring on the EC145 T2 and EC175, Airbus is starting to trumpet the benefits of having a common cockpit – something that may be regarded as a response to AgustaWestland and its family of aircraft concept.

‘This cockpit is a revolution. In the Helionix cockpit, what you don’t need to know is not displayed, which gets rid of complexity. It becomes very easy to fly a helicopter and very safe because you are not wasting time monitoring a huge complexity of things, the system is doing it for you,’ Faury said.

The Blue Edge main rotor blade features a double-swept shape that reduces the noise generated by so-called blade-vortex interactions (BVI), which occur when the blade impacts a vortex, created at its tip.

While a five-blade Blue Edge main rotor has been flying since July 2007 on an EC155 testbed, demonstrating noise reductions of 3-4dB, this is the first new aircraft to feature the innovation. In addition, the company gains about 100kg in payload thanks to the blades.

However, the manufacturer has decided against the use of the Blue Pulse piezo-active rotor control system, developed in conjunction with Blue Edge, as the maintainability of the system was not yet regarded as mature enough.

One feature of the H160 that will likely be the main visual signature in the eyes of the public is the canted fenestron. While other helicopters have featured tilted tail rotors, this is the first time it has been employed for a fenestron.

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Along with the biplane stabiliser, this provides more stability in the hover, allowing the pilot to maintain a more level flight path, and provides around 40kg additional lift.

The electric landing gear helps to reduce maintenance, as there are no hydraulic systems below the floor of the cabin, while the composite airframe also maximises occupant safety and reduces maintenance.

In addition to two ground test rigs, three prototype aircraft are being built for flight tests (PT1, 2 and 3), while there will also be one pre-series aircraft (PS01).

With PT1 scheduled to fly for the first time in 2015, company officials are bullish about capturing the lion’s share of the 5-7t market, which it collectively estimates at 120-150 airframes per year, based on current growth requirements and replacement cycles.

‘This is all coming out of this phase of benchmarking, of comparison, of evolution and of deciding where we wanted to go as a company. All of this is part of the reason why we decided to go from Eurocopter to Airbus Helicopters – this is the same story,’ Faury concluded.

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