Eurocopter is advancing towards certification of its newest family member, the EC175 medium twin, with EASA approval still likely to be granted in the fourth quarter of the year, ahead of first delivery in early 2013.
Due to make its debut configured for the oil and gas transport sector - Bristow Helicopters is the launch customer, although a contract has yet to be signed - the first two production models are in final assembly in Eurocopter's Marignane plant near Marseille, France, and will join the flight line in around six weeks. Aircraft S01 will act as a third flight-test helicopter and is having additional sensors fitted, while S02 will be the first customer aircraft.
The Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6C-67E-powered helicopter has so far accumulated a little over 300h of flight testing with two flying prototypes, with a further 200h on the company's "iron bird" test rig, including recently completed endurance testing.
The airframer says emergency evacuation trials were recently conducted, with the 15 occupants and pilots evacuated in 30s, against EASA's target of 90s.
"To not just reach the certification target but to exceed by far those requirements shows Eurocopter is a clear leader in terms of safety," says Laurent Vautherin, director of the EC175 programme.
Additionally, a 30min dry run of its gearbox was successfully undertaken, adds Vautherin.
The EC175 is exceeding safety expectations by large margins
Further test points still to be covered include cold weather trials and certification of equipment specific to the oil and gas configuration such as emergency floats and the TCAS II safety system.
Eurocopter has also recently added several aerodynamic tweaks to the helicopter, including a fibreglass fish tail-shaped rear fuselage fairing, which is produced by its Chinese partner Avicopter.
Vautherin says the type shows Eurocopter's hallmark of taking state-of-the-art iterations of mature technology, pointing to the PT6E powerplants - the newest version of the venerable engine from P&WC - to which it has added a dual-channel FADEC. "We have done this all over the aircraft, using technologies that we are a master of but adding brand-new innovations," he explains.
The EC175 also displays a canted tail rotor, the first time that Eurocopter has used this design, which adds additional lift while in a hover.
The airframer has 29 firm orders booked for the EC175, 15 from Russia's UTair, four for French operator Héli-Union and a further 10 for Belgium-based oil and gas specialist Noordzee Helikopters Vlaanderen. It plans to deliver 10 aircraft by the end of 2013 and "more than 20" the following year.