German operations with the Sikorsky CH-53 transport helicopter received a major lift at the show, as Eurocopter delivered its first upgraded GA-model example of the type.
Launched in 2007, the CH-53GA modernisation effort will lead to the conversion of 40 1970s-era G-version aircraft by 2018. The first production example was handed over to army aviation commander Brig Reinhard Wolski in the Eurocopter static display area between halls 2 and 3.
The improvements include a replacement cockpit with a Rockwell Collins-supplied avionics management system, new autopilot and electronic warfare equipment, a modern communications fit and a forward-looking infrared sensor.
The transport's range has also been increased to a maximum of 648nm (1,200km) through the installation of an internal fuel tank, enabling it to match the performance of Germany's younger CH-53GS/GE aircraft, currently being flown in Afghanistan.
"We have done all the qualification and certification flights required using two prototypes," says Eurocopter programme manager Stefan Emig. "We have asked for additional type certification, and expect to receive it this month."
In addition to the aircraft on display at ILA, three other modified CH-53GAs are being used to support crew training activities, and four more aircraft will be delivered this year.
"We are one month into an operational test programme, with our first two crews trying to get everything out of the aircraft," says German army operational test pilot Maj Andreas Bunning. The process is expected to take up to another six months to conclude, he adds.
Getting the CH-53GA into Afghanistan is a major objective for programme officials and their military customer. While noting that a formal decision on such a deployment has yet to be reached, Bunning notes: "We will be ready by the end of next year."
Under current plans, Germany will retain 66 of its 84 CH-53s, also including 20 GS and six GE examples. With an airframe life of 10,000 flight hours, the type is likely to remain operational until at least 2030.