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Dubai Air Show 2023: Vertically Upwards
  • 27 Dec 2023 04:40 AM
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Dubai Air Show 2023: Vertically Upwards

By Ian Frain
Vertiflite, Jan/Feb 2024

The Dubai Air Show 2023, held Nov. 13–17, was a resounding success, with both a variety of rotary-wing crewed and uncrewed platforms on static and flying display, and the appearance of an advanced air mobility (AAM) pavilion. The marketplace for electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) aircraft for urban air mobility (UAM) and other AAM missions is advancing with immense interest in the Middle East.

Middle and Far East

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) Joint Aviation Command (JAC) exhibited its Boeing AH-64D Apache attack helicopter, heavy-lift Boeing CH-47F Chinook, Northstar Aviation/Bell 407MRH Lightning multi-role helicopter and Sikorsky UH-60M Black Hawks on static display. The flying display opened with the rotary-wing performers, plus the Airbus Helicopters AS565M Panther (based on the Dauphin) naval helicopter and single-engine AS550B (now H125M) Fennec.

The parapublic platforms of the region included the blue and white Abu Dhabi Police Aviation Bell 429, a Leonardo AW139 belonging to the Dubai Police Air Wing and an AW139 of the National Search and Rescue Center.

Korea Aerospace KUH-1E (right) and LAH on static display.

One major highlight, and a first for the show, was the appearance of the twin-engine Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) Korean Utility Helicopter KUH-1E Surion — the -E designation indicating the international export version — and the Light Attack Helicopter (LAH). The LAH, as with the Surion, is derived from the Airbus Helicopters H155 (EC155B1) and intended to replace the legacy tandem two-seat Bell AH-1S/P Cobra and MD Helicopters MD500 attack helicopters in service with the Republic of Korea Army. The LAH, along with the Surion at the show, featured both nose-mounted cannons and a variety of anti-armor guided munitions on external mountings, plus electro/optical (E/O) sensors.

The Indian Air Force Sarang helicopter display team performed, as they had in 2021. The team consists of four five-ton Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) Dhruv twin-engine light helicopters. This craft has some resemblance to the legacy Messerschmitt- Bölkow-Blohm (MBB)/Kawasaki BK117. It was designed three decades ago, when MBB (which later became Eurocopter Deutschland and is now Airbus Helicopters), was consulted for its help with the design of the Advanced Light Helicopter (ALH).

The Dhruv is in service with all the Indian Armed Forces, as well as the Coast Guard and parapublic operators, while also seeing service with the armed forces of the Maldives, Mauritius and Nepal. On the civilian side, the Dhruv serves the helicopter emergency service (HEMS) in both Turkey and Peru. HAL helicopters are all designed for high-altitude operations, so it has seen export success in countries with mountainous terrain.

Russian Rotors

Russian Helicopters Kamov Ka-52 Alligator attack helicopter flight demonstration.

Russian Helicopters JSC exhibited its parapublic range consisting of the light twin-engine Ansat for HEMS, the twin-engine coaxial Ka-3211M in firefighting configuration, and the larger twin-engine Mi-171A3, which was equipped with a rescue hoist, searchlight and an E/O pod.

Finally, Russian Helicopters exhibited the twin-engine, side-by-side seating, coaxial Ka-52 Alligator attack helicopter, and it also performed a flying display during the show. At Dubai Air Show 2021, Russian Helicopters JSC exhibited the shipborne Ka-52K Katran naval variant, along with its variety of anti-shipping missiles and rockets (see “Dubai Air Show 2021,” Vertiflite, Jan/Feb 2022).

Chargers Ahead

The US Department of Defense (DoD) has always had a presence at Dubai Air Show over the years; this time it was the Navy making a return with the Sikorsky MH-60S Knighthawk, last seen at the air show in 2017. The MH-60S Knighthawk differs from its naval sibling, the shipborne Sikorsky MH-60R Seahawk sub hunter, as it is based on the Army’s UH-60L Black Hawk and not the earlier MH-60F Seahawk; the MH-60S conducts the vertical replenishment (VERTREP) and similar missions.

This particular MH-60S belongs to Helicopter Combat Squadron 26 (HSC-26) “Chargers.” The Chargers are based in Bahrain, supporting the US Naval Forces Central Command (NAVCENT), which is headquartered in Bahrain.

Leonardo Leading the Law Enforcement Way

Aside from the Abu Dhabi Police and Dubai Police Air Wing pair of twin-engine Leonardo AW139s on static display, Leonardo brought the latest twin-engine AW169M (UH-169B) from Italy. Featuring splendid yellow and green paint, the AW169M was equipped with skids and in parapublic configuration, belonging to Italy’s Guardia di Finanza (GdF). The unit is receiving eight traditional AW169Ms with wheeled undercarriage, while the remaining 16 will be skid-equipped.

According to Leonardo, the presence of the AW169M at the show was part of a tour of the Middle East highlighting the type’s application to not only the parapublic marketplace, but also the offshore oil and gas segment.

Uncrewed and Unafraid

Chinese Flightwin FWH-1500 uncrewed armed helicopter mockup.

The show was filled with uncrewed aircraft systems (UAS). China National Aero-Technology Import & Export Corporation (CATIC) brought its new, large AR2000, which is aimed at the naval role, along with its smaller AR500W uncrewed helicopters. Another Chinese company, Flightwin-Innovation, exhibited a mockup of its FWH-3000 tandem twin-rotor cargo helicopter and FWH-1500 attack helicopter UAS.

One of the major sponsors and partners of the Dubai Air Show 2023 was the UAE-owned Edge Group, which exhibited 11 uncrewed aircraft, including the Garmoosha helicopter UAS, and Hunter QX-4 and QX-5 fixed-wing VTOL aircraft. Edge recently acquired around 52% ownership of Swiss UAS company ANAVIA. Consequently, Edge Group exhibited the HT-100 multi-role helicopter UAS, for which Edge has secured orders from Abu Dhabi Ship Building.

Russian Helicopters JSC exhibited its BAS-200 uncrewed helicopter on a static display beside its parapublic rotorcraft.

China’s CATIC Xuange AR500W and Xuange AR2000 drone helicopters.

AAM Arrives

With the advances in eVTOL aircraft around the world, Dubai Air Show 2023 had a dedicated “Advanced Aerial Mobility Pavilion.” There were over 20 manufacturers from across the globe that exhibited aircraft, be it full-sized mockups or static models.

Eve Air Mobility, displaying a cabin mockup in the AAM Pavilion, announced it would support urban air traffic management operations in Dubai.

Some of the more notable ones, such as Eve Air Mobility, a subsidiary of Embraer, showcased its cockpit mockup. US eVTOL manufacturer Archer Aviation exhibited the full-scale mockup of its Midnight eVTOL inside the pavilion. Archer made several announcements for sales of their aircraft, including a large deal with IndiGo in India (see “eVTOL Leaders Continue to Accelerate Progress,” Vertiflite, Jan/Feb 2024).

Outside, on static aircraft display, Shanghai, China-based AutoFlight brought its Prosperity One, previously unveiled at Paris Air Show 2023.

In the stage next to the pavilion, the AAM conference was moderated by Darrell Swanson, co-founder of EA Maven (both he and the author are also officers of the VFS United Kingdom Chapter).

Guest speakers included representatives of world regulatory bodies, such as Capt. Sulaiman Almuhaimedi, Executive Vice President of Aviation Safety & Environmental Sustainability for the General Authority of Civil Aviation of Saudi Arabia, and Jessica Sypniewski, Deputy Administrator NextGen at the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). The other key speakers included Luis Felipe de Oliveira, Director General of the Airports Council International (ACI) World; Lorenzo di Loreto, Managing Director of Munich Airport International; Sebastian Borel, Chief Commercial Officer of Lillium GmbH; and Carlos Poveda Rey, Chief Executive of UMILES Group.

Archer brought its Midnight mockup and announced the sale of nearly 100 of its aircraft worth $500M.

Oscar Lara Rapp, CEO of Crisalion (formerly known as UMILES Next), launched its eVTOL aircraft concept at the show, and announced an order from a UAE-based transportation company.

The conference covered a variety of topics ranging from aircraft certification, airspace integration, regulation and infrastructure. A key focus was on how Middle Eastern countries are leveraging the opportunity that AAM has to offer.

Swanson set out his views on regional air mobility (RAM): “UAM will be big, but RAM will be bigger for two reasons. First, aviation has always saved us time, so longer trips mean more time savings for passengers and RAM gives us this. And second, there are more small airports closer to passengers’ origins and destinations than large airports with greater surface access,” so RAM can draw on conventional air transportation passengers.

On a more humorous note, Swanson highlighted the “bladder factor,” which states that just because an AAM aircraft can offer services over hundreds of kilometers (especially hybrid options), passengers may not want to choose those flights unless there is a lavatory available. Swanson said that there will be a couple of papers coming out on these subjects in the New Year through the Farnborough Information News Network.

Indian Air Force Sarang Helicopter Display Team flying the HAL Dhruv. (All photos by the author)

Confident Future

All in all, the Dubai Air Show 2023 highlighted the ongoing success of the rotorcraft and eVTOL aircraft industry, not only within the region but also across the Asian and North American marketplaces.

New airframes and advances in UAM, coupled with innovation and investment, keep the vertical flight industry moving forward.

Additional photos from the author are available at www.vtol.org/gallery.

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