Kawasaki is puzzled by Eurocopter's reluctance to promote the BK117/EC145

Andrzej Jeziorski/SINGAPORE

Japan's Kawasaki Heavy Industries (KHI) plans to lift the veil on its BK117C-2/EC145 helicopter programme, developed jointly with Eurocopter, at Tokyo Aerospace 2000 (TA2000).

It faces an unusual problem, however, in its Franco-German partner's reluctance to promote the type. Kawasaki officials say privately that they are baffled by Eurocopter's reticence, but the company has nevertheless toned down plans to show its new product at Tokyo.

The first Japanese prototype of the helicopter - an increased take-off weight development of the Eurocopter/Kawasaki BK117 - is due to have completed its maiden flight at Kawasaki's Gifu plant by TA2000's opening. The Japanese manufacturer had hoped to display the prototype prominently, but this proposal has been dropped and a BK117 B-1 in emergency medical services configuration is being shown in its place.

Eurocopter has repeatedly deferred the start of marketing what it calls the EC145 (KHI favours the BK117 C-2 label) and has been pressuring KHI to do the same. Sources at the Japanese company say, however, that the decision not to display the prototype was driven by the need to continue flight testing to meet certification schedules, not by European pressure. The sources say the partners hope to win certification from the German and Japanese aviation authorities, the LBAand the JCAB.

Although the first European-built EC145 prototype has logged over 200h of flight test time at Donauwörth, Germany, since its maiden flight last June, Eurocopter is reluctant to talk about the latest addition to its stable. In recent weeks, the manufacturer said it would delay commercial sales of the helicopter by 12 months to give it time to clear a $170 million, 32-unit launch order from the French civil guard, which wants to replace its Aerospatiale Alouette IIIs, and an eight-unit order from the French police.

"As a result of French domestic orders in hand, we can't deliver before 2001-2," says Eurocopter president Siegfried Sobotta. KHI fears that its own BK117C-2 deliveries could be delayed by the production logjam at Eurocopter, as it could slow delivery of parts to Japan.

Eurocopter says: "It's simply too early to launch now," adding that it will "start market introduction in early 2001", but KHI is becoming impatient. It had expected to begin promoting the helicopter at last year's Paris air show, but the Franco-German company stopped these plans, saying that it would instead present the programme formally at the Helicopter Association International show in February this year. This did not happen. So Kawasaki will now take the initiative on its home turf.

The production standard BK117, the BK117 C-1, offers a maximum take-off weight of 3,350kg (7,380lb) and is powered by twin Turboméca Arriel 1E2 turboshafts - unlike the earlier B-2 version, powered by the AlliedSignal LTS 101-750B-1. The C-2 version retains the same powerplants, but offers an increased maximum take-off weight of 3,500kg, with payload boosted to 1,700kg from the C-1's 1,590kg. It is being offered in various configurations with up to 10 seats.

At 10.27m (34ft), the helicopter is nearly 0.4m longer than previous BK117s and offers increased internal cabin space. Cabin length has gone up to 2.97m from 2.56m and width is up to 1.39m from 1.21m.

Official figures quote the type's maximum speed as 145kt (270km/h), 5kt faster than the C-1.

Eurocopter confirms, however, that the German prototype has been tested up to 150kt and has been flown up to altitudes of 15,000ft.

The helicopter's forward fuselage is almost identical in appearance to the 2.7t Eurocopter EC135, which has a structure of mixed metal and Kevlar/carbonfibre sandwich components.

The BK117 C-2 has not adopted the Eurocopter bearingless main rotor featured on the EC135, sticking instead with the BK117's System Bölkow four-blade main rotor head, but with redesigned blades. Nor does the helicopter feature the Fenestron tailrotor common to the newer civil types in Eurocopter's product range. KHI engineers - responsible for designing the aircraft's rear parts - are believed to have considered a Fenestron, but rejected it on the grounds of weight, and because of KHI's lack of experience with this type of rotor.

The C-2 is understood to feature a new generation cockpit allowing the use of night-vision goggles. The aircraft should offer a range of about 700km (380nm), compared with theC-1's 550km range.

Source: Flight International