Tag Archives: Airbus Helicopters

Last advanced Stallions up for delivery in Germany

Fifteen more years of useful service. In 2010, that was the goal of an Airbus Helicopters modification program for German Air Force CH-53G Stallion heavy transport helicopters. Over the past years, these green giants have been getting modernized cockpits, new avionic and warfare suites and countless other upgrades.

The end is near for the modification program, delivering fourty modernized helicopters to the German Air Force. They are known as CH-53GA, signifying ‘Germany Advanced’. As it should.

In the Airbus Helicopters Military Support Center (MSC) in Donauwörth, Germany, well over a dozen Sikorsky CH-53s receive attention. Among them are the last of fourty of these airborne workhorses to be upgraded to CH-53GA. When done, the upgrade shows itself by no uncertain means in the cockpit, where avionics and communications systems almost identical to those used in the NH90 and Tiger attack helicopter, present themselves to awaiting pilots. All is contained in a completely new glass cockpit.

Miles away

With five multi-function displays, the new cockpit is miles away from the analogue workplace it used to be. “We’re taking out all the old mechanical instruments and we put in multifunctional displays that provide the crew with enormous flexibility and increased efficiency”, says Michael Hoofdmann, head of programs at the MSC.

A huge upgrade is the newly designed four-axis autopilot with auto-hover automatic flight control system that is similar to the NH90’s auto pilot. An electronic warfare system for threat recognition and electronic self-protection protects crews in hostile environments. A forward looking infrared (FLIR) sensor turret is also part of the update.

The CH-53GA cockpit. (Image © Airbus Helicopters)
The CH-53GA cockpit. (Image © Airbus Helicopters)

Four decades

The first modernized Stallion was handed back to the German Air Force in 2012, close to four decades after the first of 110 helicopters were introduced in German service. Externally, the CH-53GA lacks the big fuel tanks that identified the past CH-53GS update, a program that mainly served to add personnel recovery and extraction capabilities. An internal fuel tank has been installed in the latest variant instead.

Fleet

The current German fleet consist of forty CH-53GA and 26 remaining CH-53GS/GE helicopters (of which 20 GS and 6 GE), adding up to 66 in total. To examine the remaining service life, one CH-53G has been completely dismantled and inspected for signs of fatigue at Donauwörth. The fleet saw extensive use over the last decades, deploying to Afghanistan and Kosovo. In the same timeframe, all remaining helicopters were transferred from the Germany Army to the German Air Force. The NH90 took the CH-53’s place in the Army.

One of over a dozen CH-53s in Donauwörth last February/ (Image © Dennis Spronk)
One of over a dozen CH-53s in Donauwörth last February/ (Image © Dennis Spronk)
With so many CH-53s in one space, foldable tails help save space. (Image © Dennis Spronk)
With so many CH-53s in one space, foldable tails help save space. (Image © Dennis Spronk)

Twilight

Updated or not, truth is the Stallion is in the twilight of its career. Berlin is looking at its options, being either the CH-47F Chinook or… the CH-53K. The ‘Kilo’ is the latest incarnation of the Stallion, seeing its first flight just last year. There is no road map yet for a purchase, but it seems likely the Germans will decide on a new heavy transport helicopter in the next two or three years. Deliveries are still at least six years away.

Until then, the CH-53GA is the tool of the trade when it comes to heavy helicopter transport in Germany. “They are now state of the art again”, concludes Michael Hoofdmann. “No more upgrades needed for these helicopters.”

© 2016 Airheadsfly.com editor Elmer van Hest

H145: customized best seller for all

On first glance a military special forces member may not have a single thing common with an offshore worker, a paramedic or even your average VIP. On second glance, they do. It’s called the H145, currently one of Airbus Helicopters’ best selling choppers and since December 2015 the preferred airborne ride of the German Kommando Spezialkräfte (KSK). Starting April, Thailand will also welcome the H145M, a helicopter that like all Airbus Helicopters rotorcraft, can be customized almost to infinity.

Customization is indeed built into our design structure and production process, says Gottfried Hornung, heading the combined Final Assembly Line (FAL) of H135 and H145 helicopters in Donauwörth, Germany. Behind him, Airbus Helicopters employees perform quality inspections on what is to be the third of fifteen H145Ms for the KSK. The dark green colour sets its apart from other helicopters built for civilian customers.

Hornung is in charge of final assembly of all H135s and H145s produced in Donauwörth. “Helicopters have been produced at this location for many decades.That experience has led to optimized customization for our customers, which in turn contributes to the market success of both the H135 and H145”, says Hornung while an H135 for the Australian Defense Force (ADF) awaits attention. Nearby in the flight hangar, two olive green H145Ms for Thailand are readied for flight and an additional H145 is prepared for its customized ‘Mercedes-Benz style’ VIP interior.

Quality control on the third H145M for Germany. (Image © Dennis Spronk)
Quality control on the third H145M for Germany. (Image © Dennis Spronk)

Versatile

Customized or not, the H135 and H145 are true multipurpose helicopters. Their versatility is demonstrated by the fact the both are the preferred platform for Emergency Medical Services (EMS). As civil market leader, Airbus Helicopters has a strong foothold in this corner of the helicopter market, which globally decreased by over 20 percent last year.  Nevertheless, Airbus Helicopters in 2015 slightly increased its civil market share and  chalked up total 383 orders, military contracts included. Out of these orders, 107 are for the H145 and 49 for the smaller H135.

An H145M for the Thai Army awaits its next test flight. (Image © Alexander Lutz)
An H145M for the Thai Army awaits its next test flight. (Image © Alexander Lutz)
While another waits to have its rotor blades fitted. (Image © Dennis Spronk)
While another waits to have its rotor blades fitted. (Image © Dennis Spronk)

Military

On the military market, the H145 may appear like the new kid on the block while in fact it is anything but. Disguised as the UH-72A Lakota and as a replacement for the UH-1 Huey, the type has been serving the US Army for years already in training, transport and liaison roles. A staggering 423 Lakotas were ordered by the US.

In its special ops role, the H145M – advertized as a ‘light battlefield support helicopter’ – offers  room for up to 10 soldiers in the ballistically protected cabin. The sliding side doors and fast rope systems offer quick exit in hover situations, while the double clamshell doors at the rear can also be used when on the ground.The Fenestron shrouded tail rotor offers protection and safety on the ground. Until now, special forces in Germany relied on the – again – UH-1 Huey.

Fast rooping from an Airbus Helicopters H145M. (Image © Airbus Helicopters)
Fast rooping in action. (Image © Airbus Helicopters)

Weapons

The H145M features a mission computer, an infrared/TV electro-optical system, a laser range-finder/designator/pointer plus two rigid but removable multi-purpose armament pylons. Optionally, the helicopter can be fitted with rocket launchers for ballistic and guided weapons, guns pods, mounted door guns and air-to-ground missiles. According to Airbus Helicopters, laser-guided rockets could be added to the H145M’s weapons arsenal in the future, too.

Also, for the next seven years the Airbus Helicopters Military Support Center in Donauwörth will take complete care of the fifteen German special ops choppers. The same center already looks after all military helicopters in service with the Germans, including Sikorsky CH-53Gs, NH90s and Tiger attack Helicopters. It also provides support for German Marine Sea King and Sea Lynx helos.

Helionix

What sets newer H145s, including the German special ops ones, apart from earlier models is the modulair and impressive Helionix cockpit suite which according to Airbus Helicopters offers pilots the world’s most advanced cockpit – apart from the Airbus A350. In the case of the H145, the suite consists of three large MFDs that can all be adjusted for diplaying either basic flight control instruments, engine parameters, digital maps or a range of other options. Two Garmin GTN 750 GPS/NAV/COMM multifunction displays complete the typical Helionix setup in the H145. The system offers a 4 axis autopilot including Auto-Hover function. Helionix will be integrated in all new or updated products of Airbus such as the new H135 and H160.

Helionix is another example of Airbus Helicopters customization and attention to customer needs. “We aim to get the most out of our product”, says Gottfried Hornung. “Take the recently increased maximum take-off weight (MTOW) for the H145, which was 3,650 kg and now is 3,700 kg. In an helicopter, that extra 50 kilos makes all the difference.”

And yes, no matter if you’re a military special forces member, an offshore worker, a paramedic or your average VIP. Or anything else.

© 2016 Airheadsfly.com editor Elmer van Hest
Featured image: Out for a test flight is this H145M for the Thai Navy. (Image © Alexander Lutz)

(Image © Alexander Lutz)
Each helicopter is thoroughly checked during several test flight. (Image © Alexander Lutz)
 (Image © Elmer van Hest)
A view of the combined H135/H145 production facility in Donauwörth. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
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Electrical testing in progress. (Image © Dennis Spronk)
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No guessing where these parts will end up: Thailand.(Image © Dennis Spronk)
Engineers work on on this H135 destined for the Australian Defense Force. (Image © Dennis Spronk)
Engineers work on on this H135 destined for the Australian Defense Force. (Image © Dennis Spronk)

First picture: NH90 Sea Lion for Germany

An Airheadsfly.com visit to Airbus Helicopters in Donauwörth on Friday 22 January produced the very first picture of the first NH90 Sea Lion helicopter for the Germany Navy. The helicopter is currently in final assembly and along with 17 others and from 2019 onwards, replaces the Sea King helos still in use with the Marine.

The first Sea Lion entered final assembly in October and is now having its electrical harnesses fitted, after which avionics and initial mission equipment will be installed. The helicopter is expected to fly for the first time in November 2016.

The naval variant differs from German Army NH90s as it has a stronger landing gear for deck landings, plus provisions for the installation of a full anti-submarine warfare (ASW) kit and anti-surface warfare (ASuW) kit. The German government still has to decide on the exact specifications, though. The Netherlands, France, Italy, Norway and Sweden already operate ASW-versions of the NH90.

Search and rescue

In 2019, the Sea Lion will be ready to take over search and rescue (SAR) plus transport and support duties from the Sea King, the oldest of which dates back to 1973. At a later stage, the new NH90 should be ready also to take over the ASW and ASuW role from current Super Lynx helos.

With the engines ans landing gear installed, this brand new NH90 for the German army, is almost ready to be moved to the so called Flightline hangar at Donauwörth for test flights (Image © Dennis Spronk)
With the engines ans landing gear installed, this brand new NH90 for the German army is almost ready to be moved to the so called Flightline hangar at Donauwörth for test flights. (Image © Dennis Spronk)
In the front the first German NH90 Sea Lion, in the Final Assembly Line (FAL) at Airbus Helicopters in Donauwörth, Germany (Image © Dennis Spronk)
Airbus Helicopters is ramping up production tempo a bit in 2016. (Image © Dennis Spronk)

Production

The last of 18 Sea Lions – total estimated cost 1.4 billion EUR – is to be delivered in 2022. Airbus Helicopters will slightly push production tempo in Donauwörth a bit to over ten NH90 helicopters per year. These also include the remaining NH90s for the German army, plus more ASW-variants for Sweden. Worldwide, 35 to 50 NH90s are manufactured yearly.

The NH90 has suffered from a bad reputation in Germany over maintenance and reliability issues. Airbus Helicopters is now retrofitting early production helicopters with the latest configuration including software and other upgrades. The company also says it is now getting good and positive feedback from NH90-pilots.

© 2016 Airheadsfly.com editor Elmer van Hest
Featured image (top): The first German NH90 Sea Lion in production, in the Final Assembly Line (FAL) at Airbus Helicopters in Donauwörth, Germany. (Image © Dennis Spronk)

The first German NH90 Sea Lion in production, in the Final Assembly Line (FAL) at Airbus Helicopters in Donauwörth, Germany (Image © Dennis Spronk)
Production of a single NH90 takes about 12 months. (Image © Dennis Spronk)

Eastern Europe explores military helo options

UPDATED 27 January | Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic all are on the verge of replacing their fleets of Mil Mi-8/17 transport helicopters as well as Mi-24 Hind attack helicopters. Although each country seems to be heading down a different path, Bell Helicopter offers potentials for a joint program.

Update: according to Poland’s deputy defense minister on 26 January, a deal for Caracal helicopters now looks ‘very unlikely’.

In Poland, a multirole rotorcraft tender was won last year by Airbus Helicopters’ H225 Caracal, but after a change of government negotiations regarding offset investments are still ongoing. A spokesperson at Airbus Helicopters on Friday stated that ‘things seems to be moving in the right direction again’.

In the neighbouring Czech Republic, the air force flies 16 quite modern transport Mil Mi-171Sh helos, acquired from Russia in 2005 and recently upgraded with new communication, navigation and electrooptical equipment. The Czechs expect their Mi-171s to be used for at least one more decade, after which new helos will take their place as well as the place of current Mi-24 attack choppers. The new helicopters must be able to carry six to eight soldiers and be fitted out with guns plus guided and unguided rockets.

The Mi-17 Hip has a long heritage. (Image © Paweł Bondaryk)
The Mi-17 Hip has a long heritage. (Image © Paweł Bondaryk)

Czech offers

Previous plans of buying 12 machines are now revised in favour of a larger batch of 30-35 helicopters, due to better funding available in short term. Last year Czech MoD issued an request for information (RFI) to manufacturers of medium multirole helicopters; all Western producers responded with offers. Italian AgustaWestland offered the AW139, while Bell Helicopters is offering a tandem of its UH-1Y Venom and AH-1Z Viper used by the United States Marines Corps (USMC). Airbus Helicopters will most probably offer the Caracal just like it did in Poland, or the nine ton AS532ALe Cougar.

A preselection of preferred candidates is expected during the first half of 2016, with first deliveries planned a year or two later. Taking into account the strong presence of Bell Helicopters on the Czech civil rotorcraft market and police aviation using five Bell 412 helicopters, the UH-1Y is seen as strong contender. Bell in its offer underscores the possibility of establishing a joint Czech-Polish maintenance and training center if Poland also selects the Viper as a future attack chopper.

A US Marines UH-1Y Venom in action (Image © Bell Helicopter)
Also on offer: the UH-1Y. (Image © Bell Helicopter)
The AH-1Z Viper (Image © Bell Helicopter)
The AH-1Z Viper (Image © Bell Helicopter)
On offer: the Agusta Westland AW139. (Image © Paweł Bondaryk)
On offer: the Agusta Westland AW139. (Image © Paweł Bondaryk)

Support

As for industrial offset, there’s rather small chance of licence production of selected type in Czech Republic, but some overhaul capabilities may be handed over to Czech industry. AgustaWestland has already signed an Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with LOM Praha for maintenance support, provided AW139 is selected.

Slovakia

There’s no official news about a Sikorsky offer to the Czech yet, but it may be either S-70i, or UH-60M. Next door to the Czech Republic, Slovakia decided to acquire nine Sikorsky UH-60M Black Hawks through US FMS program. Four out of nine are to be delivered before May 2017.

In the meantime, there is already one Bell AH-1 in Czech Republic – albeit an unarmed TAH-1P. The chopper is owned by Heliczech company, and can be seen at the airshows in country quite often.

© 2016 Airheadsfly.com contributor Paweł Bondaryk
Featured image: A Czech Mi-24 Hind attack helicopter strikes a pose. (Image © Paweł Bondaryk)

Up close with a Airbus Helicopters H225M Caracal. (Image © Anthony Pecchi)
Up close with a Airbus Helicopters H225M Caracal. (Image © Anthony Pecchi)

First anti-submarine NH90 for Sweden – finally

In a program plagued by delay after delay, Airbus Helicopters on Thursday 17 December finally delivered the first anti-submarine warfare-equipped NH90 helicopter to Sweden. The Scandinavian country desperately has been needing an advanced anti-submarine warfare (ASW) capability for years, as its waters in the Baltic Sea are regularly visited by submarines and submersibles, supposedly mainly of Russian origin.

The Swedish Defence Materiel Administration FMV (Försvarets Materielverk) took delivery of the NH90. The helo has a customized mission system including underwater sonar, tactical radar and high cabin for improved interior space. In total, Sweden has ordered 18 NH90s, 13 equipped for search-and-rescue missions (SAR) and five in ASW configuration. In Swedish service the type is dubbed HKP14 (Helikopter 14).


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Winching on Swedish NH90 not so easy, yet

Operational winch testing with the HKP14 (NH90) of the Swedish Armed Forces. Notice two crew members to operate the winch safely (Image © Trejde helikoterflottiljen / Försvarsmakten)
Operational winch testing with the HKP14 (NH90) of the Swedish Armed Forces. Notice two crew members to operate the winch safely (Image © Trejde helikoterflottiljen / Försvarsmakten)


HKP14 Configurations

The first of the ASW HKP14 has now been delivered, with four more following. Also, four SAR-configured Swedish NH90s will be re-configured into the same ASW-platform. In the end, Sweden will therefore have nine NH90s for SAR duties and nine for ASW tasks. The Swedish ASW variant has been in development since 2007. Delays sparked strong criticism from the Swedish military, with some officials quoted as having lost confidence in the program.

A HKP14 in Swedish Army livery. All military rotary wing of Sweden is flown by various units of the Swedish Armed Forces Helicopter Command (Helikopterflottiljen) (Image © Elmer van Hest)
A HKP14 in Swedish Army livery. All military rotary wing of Sweden is flown by various units of the Swedish Armed Forces Helicopter Battalion (Helikopterflottiljen) (Image © Elmer van Hest)

UH60M Black Hawk

The introduction of the NH90 into the Swedish army was also not without problems. To overcome these, Sweden took desperate measures in 2010 and ordered 15 UH-60M (HKP16) Black Hawk helicopters as a stop gap. Having become the first export customer of that version of the Black Hawk and very happy with its performance, Sweden will keep the Sikorsky tactical transport helicopters besides the 18 HKP14s.


RELATED POST:
Last Super Puma of Sweden retired

The retired HKP 10. Seen here at the 2012 Swedish Military Airshow at F3 Linköping-Malmen. (Image © Marcel Burger)
The retired HKP 10. Seen here at the 2012 Swedish Military Airshow at F3 Linköping-Malmen. (Image © Marcel Burger)


Helikopterflottiljen

All helicopters in Swedish military service are operated by the Swedish Armed Forces Helicopter Battalion (Försvarsmaktens Helikopterflottiljen). With its headquarters at Linköping-Malmen, the choppers fly from that airbase as well as Luleå-Kallax in the far north and Ronneby near Karlskrona in the far south. Apart from the HKP14s and HKP16s, the battalion operates 12 AgustaWestland HKP15A (A109) battlefield support helicopters as well as 8 AgustaWestland HKP15B (A109) maritime helicopters. Once the last NH90 has been delivered the total fleet will be 45 helicopters.

© 2015 Airheadsfly.com editors Elmer van Hest and Marcel Burger
Feature image: The HKP14 in ASW-configuration (Image © Airbus Helicopters)