Tech is under pressure to make helicopters silent

Updated: Mar 31 2008, 07:29am hrs
With the directorate general of civil aviation (DGCA) declaring 2008 as the year of helicopters, global aviation majors have descended onto the Indian market in their endeavour to grab orders from the military and civilian sectors. A key player in the race is Eurocoptera leading helicopter manufacturing company and an arm of European aerospace giant EADS. Undeterred by the cancellation of its proposed deal to sell 197 helicopters to the Indian Army, Eurocopters head of Indian operations, Bruno Boulnois is seeking to consolidate its footprint in the Indian subcontinent. We are hopeful of getting a lot of orders both in civil as well as military areas in India, he says. His confidence arises from the global footprint that the chopper major enjoys9,800 helicopters in service with over 2,500 customers in 140 countries. In a recent chat with Huma Siddiqui, he insists it is imperative that one invests in technologies that give reliable modern helicopters, instead of flying an electronic gadget that appear to be too fragile when exposed to severe operational conditions. Excerpts:

What new technologies are being developed in the helicopter sector

Modern helicopters are reflecting the maturity of this high technology industry with superior performances and sophisticated integration of their on-board electronic systems. This is allowing them to fulfill multiple missions with efficiency. Consequently, R&D efforts are mainly oriented towards reducing all operational costs, respecting the environment and allowing flights in all weather conditions. Economics are measured through the life cycle cost of the product, where maintenance, crew, insurance and fuel costs are added to the acquisition cost to figure out the overall level expenses generated by the helicopter. Optimising each one of these aspects has become a key driver for technology improvements for all manufacturers.

To make the helicopter environmental friendly, it is fundamental to participate in the world effort and consciousness regarding sustainable development. In a modern helicopter, sound nuisance is already lower than the one of a city bus or a road lorry. Engine and rotors technologies are under permanent pressure to make helicopters almost totally silent.

To be totally immune to bad weather conditions is the third main R&D area for development. This would give the crew the ability to fly in complete safety, land and take off from any restricted area, whatever be the wind, clouds, rain, snow or icing conditions.

What parameters does one need to keep in mind while selecting an advanced helicopter

The first criteria for a defence missions success is the readiness of the helicopter at any moment. As such, all technological aspects pertaining to this goal, keeping simplicity of the design together with high performance and easy maintenance is a must, especially while operating in harsh conditions.

The good compromise between sophisticated equipment, lightweight, easy operations and smooth take off and landing performances have to be found. It is imperative that one invests in technologies that give an excellent and reliable modern helicopter, always available for flights, instead of a flying an electronic gadget which will appear to be too fragile when exposed to severe operational conditions.

What measures have you taken to establish Eurocopters presence in the Indian market

The DGCA has declared this year as the year of helicopters. So we are hopeful of getting a lot of orders in civil, as well as military areas. We are engaged in meetings with the government and are hopeful that at the state level, we could get some orders by the state governments for their internal security.

Our relationship with India is more than 40 years. Eurocopter is strong both in civil and the military market . We have the widest range of helicopters in the world. We understand the pulse of the Indian market and attempts are being made to offer the best not only in cost, but also in terms of technology, including maintenance and reliability. Perhaps, thats what the vendors are expected to give.

And the new technologies being brought in

Eurocopters history in the rotary wings industry has always been associated with world records in terms of performance of our helicopters. These performances are directly related to the highly innovative design of our helicopters. Our endeavour has been to lead the way in new technologies and in R&D.

For the first time, we are getting the de-icing system. In flight, icing conditions are the only real weather limits for the helicopter flight.

When low temperature combines with high air humidity, ice will naturally form in the atmosphere.

The ice crystals have an ability to grab all parts of the helicopter, especially the rotor blades. Accumulation of ice during the flight makes the helicopter to become quickly much more heavy and unable to sustain levelled flight. The helicopter will face a forced landing situation or even collide under such circumstances.

Eurocopters EC725 helicopters are equipped with a fully automatic in-flight de-icing system. By permanently heating the rotor blades and other key elements of the airframe, including the engines air intakes, the helicopter can fly safely in any adverse meteorological conditions. This gives superior operational and advantage to this helicopter.

The machine is one of the very few helicopters in the world equipped with an in-flight refuelling system, making it capable of flying behind an air tanker and replenish fuel without landing.

What are your views on the offset clause in the defence procurement procedure

We are familiar with the offsets in other countries too. If you approach a company with only the offsets in mind, then it could be a failure. Eurocopter has set industrial capabilities with Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL). Ironically, it has been assisting HAL to upgrade the Chetaks and Cheetahs for the Indian Army.

In addition, Eurocopter also sources components from HAL for the Ecureuil and other helicopters it manufactures. We are ready for industrial partnerships with the Indian companies, especially as the country has a big aerospace industry.

India has qualified equipment manufacturers and we are looking at private companies for future partnerships. Especially in the simulators sector as that is one big area where there are a lot of Indian companies present.