Compiled by Graham Warwick/WASHINGTON DC and John Christovassilis/LONDON

Helicopter manufacturers are working, with some success, to stimulate the civil market with the introduction of new designs.

Bell Helicopter Textron, the leading civil-helicopter manufacturer with around half the world market, has revamped its commercial product-line, most recently making the bold move, with Boeing Helicopters, of launching the first civil tilt-rotor.

Bell has established tough design-to-cost goals for its new helicopters, with the result that the manufacturer has set new price-performance benchmarks in the light single and twin-turbine helicopter market.

With the Model 407, Bell has successfully tapped the long-sought-after market to replace its popular Model 206 light single. The new helicopter has a four-blade main rotor and offers increased payload and performance for a modest increase in price of around $115,000, a feat Bell is now trying to repeat with the Model 427 light twin, under development with Samsung and scheduled for certification in 1998.


Confident bell

Despite a slow start, Bell remains confident of good long-term sales prospects for its Model 430 intermediate twin, a stretched, four-blade upgrade of the stylish 222. One market being pursued is emergency medical-services, which is moving towards larger, longer-range machines.

The Bell Boeing 609 tilt-rotor, priced between $8 million and $10 million, is intended to supersede the Model 412 medium twin, while being in competition against the Sikorsky S-76 and twin-turboprop aircraft such as the Raytheon Beech King Air in certain short-haul markets. The company has forecast a market for around 1,000 tilt rotors over the next 20 years. Bell will continue to produce the 412 for as long as there is demand for the helicopter, as it still produces the 205 and 212 alongside the 412.

Eurocopter is reporting a recovery in civil-helicopter sales, aided by the introduction of its EC135 light twin, a successor to the BO105. One of the advantages promoted for this helicopter is its low noise, an increasingly important factor in several market sectors, including air tours and law enforcement. The same technological approach has been taken with the new EC120 light single, which is being produced jointly with China National Aero Technology and Singapore Aerospace.

Eurocopter, meanwhile, continues to improve its range, introducing new versions of the light AS350B3 Ecureuil and medium AS365N4 Dauphin, which was introduced at the Paris air show in June . The European manufacturer's range is topped by the Super Puma Mk2, and Eurocopter may eventually take the lead in developing a civil version of the NH Industries NH90 transport helicopter. Also in Europe, Agusta has revamped its commercial-helicopter with the improved A109 Power light twin and the new A119 Koala, light single.


McDonnell Douglas expands

In the USA, McDonnell Douglas Helicopter Systems, now part of Boeing, has expanded its civil-helicopter range with the certification of the MD600N light single. This is the company's third design to have the no-tailrotor (NOTAR) anti-torque system, which offers noise and safety advantages. The NOTAR's performance has been instrumental in establishing a significant share of the law-enforcement market for the MD520N light single. The MD600N, a stretched derivative of the MD520N, is targeted at the air-tour and air-medical markets. The more powerful NOTAR-equipped MD902 Explorer light twin is being improved. The company has received 24 orders for the variant to date. Robinson has introduced a police version of its four-seat R44 light turbine.

At opposite ends of the civil-helicopter spectrum, Schweizer Aircraft has improved the performance of its Model 330SP light single, and the GKNWestland/Agusta consortium EHIndustries has begun commercial trials with the 30-seat, triple-turbine EH101. Sikorsky has introduced the uprated S-76C medium twin and plans to roll out the 19-seat, S-92C Helibus.

Source: Flight International