A Chinese consortium of three companies has confirmed to buy a whopping 100 H135 light rotary wing from Airbus Helicopters, the European manufacturer announced on 13 June 2016.
Hereby China Aviation Supplies Holding Company, Qingdao United General Aviation Industrial Development Company and CITIC Offshore Helicopter Co. Ltd jointly become the first Chinese customer for the Chinese produced version of the type.
The hundred choppers will roll off the final assembly line in Qingdao in the Shandong province of China, after the plant wil be opened in 2018. The deal was suspected for some time, as all parties involved already signed a so-called letter of intent last year.
The H135 deal will give the Qingdao plant work for at least a decade, meaning Airbus wishes to produce at least 10 machines every year. Airbus Helicopters aims at 600 H135s and follow-up versions produced in China by 2038.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Airbus Helicopters and Beijing have struck a preliminary deal on the planned H135 final assembly line that is meant to produce 100 H135 helicopters over the next ten years.
The European manufacturer feels that China will be the world’s largest market for helicopters and hopes that with the envisaged opening of its own production line in the near future it will make it even more easy to sell European designed helicopters in the vast Asian country.
During the signing of the letter of intent the Airbus and its Chinese partners committed to opening up a sales office, as well as a maintenance, repair, overhaul and training capacity with the production plant in China.
The H135 is a light twin-engine helicopter that already flies in China performing mainly emergency medical services (HEMS) and police missions. Airbus thinks the Chinese civil and “parapublic” market for rotary aircraft will grow quickly.
Airbus Helicopters has delivered nearly 1,200 helicopters of the H135-family (as Eurocopter EC135; the former type name) to customers around the globe, which have logged more than 3 million flight hours. One-quarter of this total fleet is deployed for HEMS duties.
Airbus Helicopters has achieved what it calls ‘factory acceptance ‘of HATS01, the first of fifteen helicopters of the H135 family (formerly EC135 T2+) for the Helicopter Aircrew Training System (HATS) for the Australian Defence Force (ADF). Prime contractor isBoeing Defence Australia. Representatives of the Royal Australian Navy and the Australian Army joined the acceptance ceremony in Donauwörth, Germany.
Under the HATS project, a new joint helicopter training system for both Army and Navy aircrew will utilise the EC135 T2+ helicopters, along with flight simulators and a new flight-deck equipped sea-going training vessel.
Following contract signature in November of 2014, the first aircraft took to the skies on the 16th of January 2015, and is now accepted by the customer. The next steps involve training of initial Boeing and Commonwealth aircrews and technicians in Donauwörth, before shipment to Australia in January 2016
The Bayern Polizei – or the Bavarian Police in English – received the first three upgraded H135s – out of an program to modernize eight choppers, manufacturer Airbus Helicopters announced on 17 June 2015 at the Paris-Le Bourget Air Show (PAS15).
The retrofit program is designed to bring previously-built models of the Eurocopter EC135 twin-engine rotorcraft to the performance and safety standards of Airbus Helicopters’ newest version, the H135, as it is currently showcased at the Paris Airshow.
During the past weeks the upgraded helicopters have been deployed on a variety of missions in the police fleet’s range of tasks. On the occasion of the recent G7 summit in Bavaria, the retrofitted machines proved their advantages in performance and handling. The resulting gain in safety was especially evident during flights at night and in the difficult, mountainous terrain, according to Airbus Helicopters.
The remaining five Bayern Polizei H135s are to be converted and delivered during the upcoming months. The retrofits are being applied at Airbus Helicopters’ production facility in Donauwörth, Germany, which is home to the H135 production line.
Included in the retrofit package is an enlarged main rotor with improved blade profiles, the transfer of front-mounted engine air intakes to a lateral position, augmented engine capacities and an extension of the horizontal stabilizer’s span and removal of its endplates, while the tail skid is replaced with a mini bumper.