Innovation in the Parisian Summer:
Paris Air Show 2017 Report
The 52nd International Paris Air Show took place once again at Le Bourget International Airport on June 19-25. Military and civil helicopters were supplemented with innovative approaches to vertical flight.
By Ian Frain
The aviation industry descended on the beautiful French capital once again over a very hot June, with air temperatures reaching above 95°F (35°C). This year saw not just current rotorcraft, but also future vertical flight innovations, particularly from American, French and Turkish industrial participants.
The French procurement and technology agency responsible for weapon systems program management — Direction Générale de l’Armement (DGA, Directorate General of Armaments) — exhibited rotary-wing assets at the front of the show from all three arms: the Armée de l’Air (air force), Aviation Légère Armée de Terre (ALAT, army aviation) and Marine Nationale (navy).
There was a pair of Tigre HAD attack helicopters (formerly designated EC665) present at the show, including one used for the flying demonstration. The Armée de l’Air was represented by its H225M Caracal combat search and rescue (CSAR) helicopter (formerly EC725); the Caracal is expected to remain in service for another decade in the Armée de l’Air. The Marine Nationale had its NH90 NFH (NATO Frigate Helicopter) Caïman in its anti-submarine warfare (ASW) configuration and armed with a torpedo.
In addition, HeliDax exhibited its Airbus Helicopters H120 Calliope training helicopter (formerly its EC120B). HeliDax provides rotary-wing flight training to all branches of the French armed forces, plus the French Douanes (Customs) and Sécurité Civile (Civil Defense), and other parapublic agencies. The company is owned 50/50 by INAER Helicopter France and Défense Conseil International (DCI).
Further away from the main exhibition was the ALAT NH90 TTH (Tactical Transport Helicopter) Caïman in the NHIndustries chalet. This, along with the Tigre, were the only rotorcraft to perform during the daily flying displays.
High-Speed and Unmanned Airbus Innovations
Airbus Helicopters exhibited its latest products, which included the H135 Helionix demonstrator, the corporate H130 and the military H145M with various weapons systems. The newest addition to the company’s product line is the VSR700 unmanned rotorcraft. The VSR700 is derived from Hélicoptères Guimbal’s Cabri G2 two-seat light helicopter; hence, the development of the VSR700 is between both Airbus Helicopters and Guimbal. The autonomous flight trials are being carried out with a safety pilot on board.
The VSR700 weighs 1,675 lb (760 kg), flies at 100 kt (185 km/h) and is powered by a 155 hp (115 kW) turbocharged diesel engine, giving it an endurance of 10 hours. At the air show, the VSR700 had various mission role kits around it, such as the Thales AESA Flat Panel Surveillance Radar, and an ASW(anti-submarine warfare) payload consisting of the active sonobuoy with its launcher. L-3 Wescam provided an electro-optical MX-15, while the Airbus DeckFinder autolanding system for VTOL UAV ship deck operations was also on display. The true flexibility of this platform is shown with the provision to carry a rescue raft built by Survitec, which can be airdropped and, once inflated, take on 18 people.
One of the major highlights of this year’s Paris Air Show was that Airbus Helicopters unveiled its Racer high-speed demonstrator at the Clean Sky booth (see also “Clean Sky 2 Update, Part 1: The Airbus Racer,” pg. 26). Standing for Rapid and Cost-Effective Rotorcraft, Racer is being developed as part of the European Union Clean Sky 2 initiative. Racer is to achieve high speed while sustaining mission performance and cost efficiency.
The Clean Sky Initiative is funded by the EU Horizon 2020 program, which is the largest research program in Europe. Its aim is to develop the cutting-edge technology that will facilitate a reduction of CO2 gas emissions and noise generated by aircraft.
Bell’s Corporate Helos
Bell Helicopter exhibited a new Belgian-registered Bell 407GXP and a Bell 429 belonging to French operator Heli Securite, which flies from the south of France.
During the show, sales of three corporate helicopters were announced. One Bell 429 is to go to Helix AV in the United Kingdom, another to King’s Casino in the Czech Republic. Finally, one Bell 407GXP is to go to a customer in Italy.
Leonardo to the Rescue
Leonardo Helicopter Division exhibited its AW169 in emergency medical service (EMS) configuration and its unmanned AWHERO. The 10,100 lb (4.6 t) AW169 twin-engine helicopter is serving both the corporate and EMS marketplace at present with 20 airframes already delivered.
The AWHERO is a low-cost short range tactical rotary unmanned air vehicle (RUAV) that has both commercial and military applications. At Le Bourget, the 450 lb (205 kg) AWHERO was equipped with the 55 lb (25 kg) Gabbiano TS Ultra-Light multi-mode surveillance radar.
The Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI) Helicopter Group exhibited its T129 ATAK attack helicopter, all in jet black, and the new T625 helicopter in metallic blue color. The T625 was previously called their Turkish Indigenous Helicopter Program to develop a 13,200 lb (6 t) helicopter intended to replace the legacy Agusta-Bell AB205/412 across the Turkish armed forces. The T625 is to carry out a wide range of roles — not only for the military but also for the commercial sector. The latter includes corporate travel, offshore transportation, EMS and airborne law enforcement.
American Military Rotorcraft
Last but not least, the US pavilion exhibited three military rotorcraft. The United States Army in Europe (USAREUR) brought its Boeing AH-64D Longbow Apache and CH-47F Chinook on static. The Foxtrot model of the CH-47 is now seeing its sixth year of providing heavy lift in the region, supporting army units of both the US and its allies, replacing the previous Delta models. Likewise, the Delta version of the AH-64 is still stationed in Europe.
It has been over three decades since a tiltrotor has been seen at Le Bourget, when Bell brought its two-seat XV-15 experimental demonstrator in 1981. This year, the US Air Force Special Operations Command brought their UK-based CV-22 Osprey to the static display. The CV-22 Osprey has been a presence in Western Europe since arriving at RAF Mildenhall in the summer of 2013.
Innovative Electric VTOL
Innovation continues at Le Bourget. Among the conventional rotorcraft on display at the show was the Ohio-based company Workhorse with its SureFly personal hybrid-electric VTOL aircraft. At first glance, this carbon fiber airframe looks like a large two-seat quadcopter. Like the single-seat EHang 184, each of the four arms has two counterrotating propellers and the eight electric motors individually drive the propellers. However, the SureFly uses a gasoline piston engine that drives the dual generators, which in turn provide the power to the motors. The SureFly is not just designed to carry passengers. There are also provisions for cargo. The curb weight on the SureFly is 1,100 lb (500 kg) with a maximum takeoff weight of 1,500 lb (680 kg), and it has a ceiling of 4,000 ft (1,200 m). In terms of safety, the SureFly is equipped with full computer and electrical system redundancy, as well as a ballistic parachute.
American VTOL startup company XTI Aircraft also showed off its progress toward building its TriFan 600 hybrid aircraft. This unique six-seater (pilot plus five passengers) is being designed to fly at 300 kt (555 km/hr) and operate up to a maximum ceiling of 30,000 ft (9,000 m). It uses a hybrid-electric propulsion system — powered by two turboshaft engines — that drives three ducted fans. The aircraft lifts off vertically, then the two wing-fans tilt forward to fly as a conventional fixed-wing aircraft. XTI announced at the Paris Air Show that it had entered into aircraft reservation deposit agreements for the sale of its first three production units of the TriFan 600.
The Bright Future
The very high temperatures, the constant blue skies and sun at Le Bourget seemed fitting for a rotorcraft market that is heating up and for the bright future of vertical flight. This is especially true of new products complemented by innovation. This is clearly shown with the Airbus Racer, the Workhorse SureFly and
the XTI TriFan 600.
About the Author
Ian Frain runs an aviation research consultancy in Cambridge, United Kingdom, called Helian. He has a BSc in engineering studies — aerospace and mechanical — from University of Hertfordshire, and has worked in offshore and parapublic helicopter maintenance, and as a researcher in an aviation publishing company. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.