MD Helicopters floats new aircraft launch plan

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Touting healthy sales and plans to launch a new aircraft, the head of MD Helicopters says the airframer has finally shed the financial instability that nearly shut the company six years ago.

"I've put hundreds of millions of dollars of my own money into this company. We're here and we're going to be here for a very long time. We've kept the legacy alive," Lynn Tilton, who acquired MD Helicopters six years ago, said at the show. "It's time for you to sort of celebrate what MD has done, which is keep the legacy of great products."

However, Tilton created some confusion about product development plans when she casually announced the launch of a new helicopter model in response to a question about another aircraft.

"We're actually going to be coming out with a new aircraft, which is called the 540F," Tilton said.

But another MD executive immediately back-tracked on Tilton's remark. Carl Schopfer, vice-president of engineering, clarified that the 540F has not yet been launched and remains in the "what can we do?" phase.

If the 540F receives the go-ahead, Schopfer said, it is expected to fill a gap between the 530F, with a maximum gross weight of 1,405kg (3,100lb), and the 600N, which weighs 1,859kg. The 540F could be sized to lift up to a maximum of 1,666kg, or fall between a range of 1,620-1,645kg, he added.

To achieve the 540F's lift improvement, MD would combine the airframe of the 530F with the six-blade rotor and the stronger landing gear of the 600N, Schopfer said. The rotor blades for the 540F would also be new, using a Van Horn Aviation aerofoil with a design based on an expired NASA patent.

A possible application for the 540F is a lead-in trainer for Jordan, which has acquired the 530F-based Boeing AH-6i light attack reconnaissance helicopter.

In possibly a related discussion, Tilton said that MD is talking with Boeing about expanding its marketing agreement on AH-6i to include other MD models.