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European Rotors 2023 — The Iberian Connection
  • 27 Dec 2023 11:44 AM
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European Rotors 2023 — The Iberian Connection

By Ian Frain
Vertiflite, Jan/Feb 2024

The Vertical Flight Society again supported European Rotors — “The VTOL Show & Safety Conference” — on Nov. 27–30. European Rotors 2023 took place this year in Madrid, Spain, at the IFEMA MADRID Exhibition Center, near the Adolfo Suárez Madrid-Barajas Airport (MAD).

VFS Executive Director Angelo Collins chairing a session with Carlos Munoz, EASA; James Wang, NTU; and Radu Cirligeanu, Elsa Industry. (All photos by the author)

This is the third year in its successful running, organized by the European Helicopter Association in cooperation with the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), now with the support of Helicopter Association International (HAI). The previous two events were held in Cologne (Köln) in Germany, where EASA is headquartered. All the major civil helicopter manufacturers — including Airbus Helicopters, Bell, Enstrom, Leonardo, MD Helicopters and Sikorsky, a Lockheed Martin company — had a presence in Spain for the commercial, parapublic and military marketplaces.

At the event, VFS Executive Director Angelo Collins organized a full day of sessions on advanced vertical flight research and development.

Airbus España

In Spain, Airbus Helicopters is primarily based in the southern city of Albacete, where Airbus locates its technical services and produces elements of the NH90 helicopter. Airbus Helicopters Spain headquarters, with design and technical services available, is in Getafe, outside Madrid.

Inside the show, both the Spanish National Police and paramilitary Civil Guard exhibited the twin-engine Airbus Helicopters H135. The latter was in the corner of the exhibition carrying out rescue hoist demos to the audience, while at the booth was the latest H135 destined for the National Police. The first two new H135s were delivered in October 2022.

There was also a new single-engine H125 at the Airbus Helicopters booth belonging to local operator Airworks Helicopters, a Salamanca-based company that specializes in underslung lifting operations, aerial camera and heliskiing.

Tucked away in the corner was a single-engine Airbus EC120B belonging to the Spanish Air and Space Force’s Patrulla Aspa helicopter display team. The Patrulla Aspa is equipped with five EC120Bs and have performed all over Europe. The team consists of the instructors from the 78th Wing at the Military School of Helicopters in Armilla, Granada, which received its first H135 in May 2023.

Finally, Elifriulia, an Italian operator from Trieste, had its yellow, five-bladed H145 on display. Equipped with rescue hoist and medical interior, this helicopter is used for helicopter emergency medical services (HEMS). Elifriulia operates a variety of aircraft ranging from the smaller, single-engine Robinsons — the R22, R44, and R66 Turbine — and Airbus AS350B3 to the twin-engine Airbus H135 and H145. The company carries out everything from flying training to aerial firefighting to aerial filming and air medical.

Bell’s Spanish Connection

Bell has had a presence in the military and civilian marketplaces in Spain for several decades. Until it was replaced by the NH90 TTH, the iconic Bell 205/UH-1 Huey served in large numbers in the 

Spanish Army’s Airmobile Force, while the twin-engine Agusta/Bell 212 still serves at sea with the Armada. Over the decades there have been over 50 of the four-bladed twin-engine Bell 412 airframes operating in the country, under the parapublic marketplace for HEMS, firefighting and other missions.

Kopter announced that Lehman Aviation will purchase 10 AW09 helicopters.

At the Bell booth was its popular twin-engine Bell 429 in the colors of Swiss operator Air Zermatt. This is Air Zermatt’s third Bell 429 and follows the delivery of its first Bell 429 over a decade ago for HEMS and mountain rescue in the Matterhorn region. For more than five decades, Air Zermatt has served the local community with mountain rescue and HEMS, as well as heliskiing, sightseeing tours and flight training.

One notable success of Bell in the region is the European Training Academy located at Valencia, a joint venture between Bell and TRU Simulation. It is the only facility in the world at present that has Bell’s level-D certified 429 Full Flight Simulator and trains Bell 429 customers in Europe and as far afield as Central and South America.

The popular small single-engine Bell 505 Jet Ranger X, belonging to UK Bell representative HelixAv, was also on display. The continuing success of this model can be seen as Bell celebrated the 505th airframe to be delivered on Nov. 28.

Enstrom Makes the Meet

In a first, Enstrom Helicopter Corporation made its first appearance in Madrid. The Menominee-based manufacturer had a booth with a French owner bringing his yellow-and-red striped F-280FX Shark. In late 2022, the company was taken over by a new owner, Chuck Surack, after its tumultuous start to the year when Enstrom was facing financial difficulties and entered Chapter 7 bankruptcy.

Leonardo Lands

Leonardo exhibited two twin-engine AW169s, one of which featured a wheeled undercarriage and belongs to the Danish company Uni-Fly and another, the military variant AW169M (UH169C), a skid version belonging to Italy’s national police, the Carabinieri.

MD Helicopters exhibited at European Rotors for the first time.

The red Uni-Fly AW169 is configured for offshore wind farm operations. The company ordered a pair of AW169s in 2017 to fulfill its ongoing contract to perform wind farm support operations for Orsted A/S at Hornsea Project One, located 65 nm (120 km) offshore of Humberside, UK.

The Carabinieri, along with its paramilitary compatriots — the Italian Financial Police and the Italian Army Aviation — is taking deliveries of the skid version of the AW169M (UH-169C). It is equipped with state-of-the-art mission systems such as electro-optical systems, searchlight and workstation in the back for the tactical flight observer, as well as a winch.

Leonardo also brought a mock-up of the AW09 (formerly Kopter SH09) in the final design configuration. Since acquiring Swiss company Kopter (formerly known as Marenco Swisshelicopter) in 2020, Leonardo rebranded the SH09 as the AW09 to fit into the company product line.

Training for the Real World

The Mesa, Arizona-based MD Helicopters LLC (MDH) exhibited its small, single-engine range MD530 at the show, belonging to Slovak Training Academy. Since coming under new ownership, MDH is concentrating on its MD500/530 series for the private, parapublic and paramilitary marketplaces.

Left to right: Arnaud Le Pape, ONERA; Angelo Collins, VFS; Frederic Guntzer, Airbus; and Phillippe Petit, DLR.

The Slovak Training Academy also displayed a Sikorsky UH-60A. This airframe, formerly a US Army aircraft, is equipped with a firefighting belly tank produced by the Australian company Helitak. The academy provides flight training on the UH-60A Black Hawk and the MD500/530 at Kosice International Airport. Helitak, meanwhile, exhibited next to Portuguese operator Heli Bravo’s Airbus AS350B3, which is used in aerial firefighting.

The training marketplace at European Rotors featured a turbine Robinson R66 from Balearic Helicopters, which was parked next to a booth where experts from the industry carried out presentations on flying techniques. Complementing these presentations were companies providing flight simulators. A presentation at the Vertical Aviation Safety Team (VAST) Safety Workshop featured world-renowned Swiss helicopter safety expert Claude Vuichard, who developed the Vuichard Recovery Technique.

Research and Evaluation

Collins kicked off the VFS sessions on the last day of European Rotors with an introduction to VFS and overview of vertical flight developments. This was followed by VFS sessions on Sustainable Flight & eVTOL Implementation, ERF 2023 Highlights, eVTOL/ Hybrid Propulsion and DLR/ONERA Research.

The electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) aircraft/advanced air mobility (AAM) community was also featured at European Rotors. The panel discussion on Sustainable Flight & eVTOL Implementation (moderated by the author) featured Kelly Echols of LeVanta Tech, an American company developing an amphibious in-ground-effect electric aircraft; Thibault Baldivia from French eVTOL company Ascendance Flight Technologies; and Marvin Koenig from German eVTOL company Lilium.

The ERF 2023 Highlights session featured the two best papers from this year’s VFS Annual Forum and the European Rotorcraft Forum (ERF). Additionally, Collins presented the Society’s Alfred Gessow Best Paper Award to Phillippe Petit of the German Aerospace Center (DLR or Deutsches Zentrum für Luft und Raumfahrt) for his research paper titled “Validation of a Motion Sickness Prediction Model via Flight Tests on DLR’s Bo-105 Helicopter.” Frederic Guntzer from Airbus Helicopters followed with a presentation on his paper, “A Comprehensive Helicopter Acoustic Modeling Tool Based on Simulation and Experiment,” which won the Ian Cheeseman Best Paper Award at the 49th ERF 2023.

Collins and Frain try out the DLR virtual reality experience.

The eVTOL/Hybrid Propulsion session featured Radu Cirligeanu from composite developer Elsa Industry; Dr. James Wang, Director of eVTOL Research & Innovation Centre at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore; and Carlos Munoz of EASA.

The DLR/ONERA Session featured talks by Yvonne Minnich of DLR’s National Test Center for Unmanned Aircraft Systems and Florian Antrack, the DLR Program Manager of Defence Technology; and Arnaud Le Pape, the Director of the Helicopter Program at the Office National d’Etudes et de Recherches Aérospatiales (ONERA).

DLR carries out research across different sectors in aviation, especially on rotary-wing and uncrewed aircraft systems (UAS) and now UAM. They operate an Airbus Helicopters EC135T1 as a Flying Helicopter Simulator Active Control Technology Flying Helicopter Simulator (ACT/FHS) and an older Messerschmitt Bölkow-Blohm (MBB) Bo-105CB. DLR showcased its capabilities at European Rotors and brought a virtual headset and flight simulator, as well as a full cockpit.

European Rotors Going Forward

In its third year, the event was another resounding success, with not just the European but global helicopter and vertical lift industry appearing in the Spanish capital. European Rotors 2024 will be held in Amsterdam and will be the first such event in that city since Helitech Europe 2018.

Unfortunately, the VTOL Show & Safety Conference was marred by an accident during a departure. An Enstrom F-280FX had an accident after departing the show on the Friday morning. The aircraft crashed onto the busy motorway past the exhibition center, with the occupants of the helicopter and the driver of the car sustaining injuries. This was a harsh reminder of the need for constant focus on safety in vertical flight operations.

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