Eurocopter and Kawasaki have begun test flights of the EC145 medium utility helicopter, a successor to the jointly developed BK117 twin turboshaft.

The manufacturers decline to reveal programme details, but the helicopter is understood to be a development of the BK117, incorporating some cockpit and forward fuselage features of the Eurocopter EC135. The new aircraft was previously known as the BK117 C-2.

According to sources close to the programme, the helicopter will have a maximum take-off weight of 3.5t - 150kg (330lb) more than the BK117 B-2 - and will accommodate up to 13 people, including the crew. The aircraft is powered by two Turboméca Arriel 1E2 turboshafts and will feature a new-generation cockpit that allows the use of night-vision goggles. Range will be about 700km (380nm) and the aircraft can hover at altitudes exceeding 15,400ft (4,700m), even in crosswinds.

Eurocopter is understood to have a slightly greater workshare in the programme than Kawasaki, which will be responsible for the aft section of the aircraft, according to programme sources.

Last August, the French interior ministry placed a $170 million order for 32 of the helicopters for use by its civil guard for transportation and rescue roles. These aircraft will be delivered from next year to 2005, replacing a fleet of Aerospatiale Alouette IIIs. Eurocopter is understood to be planning to publicise the programme at the US Helicopter Association International show in February.

Source: Flight International