Pilot Report: EC 130B4
In aviation, like most other industries, success breeds regulation. The bigger an industry becomes, the more the government perceives the need to regulate it, often citing reasons such as safety, unfair competition and environmental protection. Yet, in typical Darwinian fashion, most industries adapt–or die. In aviation, hush kits quiet noisier jet engines, airplanes are made RVSM compatible and helicopters are flown neighborly.
The popularity of helicopter air-tour operations over the Grand Canyon and other national parks has created its own survival- of-the-fittest microcosm, where environmentalists battle operators for supremacy. Regardless the eventual outcome, one unexpected– yet, with the benefit of hindsight, imminently logical–result of this brouhaha is the Eurocopter EC 130B4.
The helicopter industry has long been a devoted disciple of Darwin, with the evolutionary development of new models the rule, rather than the exception. Just look at the bloodline of the twin-engine, four-blade Bell 412, which traces its roots to the single-engine, two-blade UH-1 Huey.
Eurocopter has done a similar thing with the EC 130B4, which is based on the AS 350B3, itself a derivative of the Aerospatiale AS 350 Ecureuil. The big difference between the EC 130 and all other helicopters, in evolutionary terms, is that the EC 130 is the first helicopter ever derived by a manufacturer specifically for, at the request of and in collaboration with, helicopter air-tour operators.
“By a manufacturer” is the qualifier in the preceding sentence. The S-55QT “Whisper Jet,” also designed specifically for the air-tour market, precedes the EC 130 by a few years. However, the Whisper Jet is an after-market modification that was developed by Vertical Aviation Technologies in Sanford, Fla., for an operator, Elling Halvorson’s Papillon Helicopters.
The simultaneous unveiling of a newly certified EC 130 at HeliExpo 2001 in February and its “delivery” to launch customer Blue Hawaiian was not coincidence. David Chevalier, Blue Hawaiian founder, owner and president, is also president of the Helicopter Association International’s Helicopter Tour Operator’s Committee.
Four years ago this committee decided to visit all the major helicopter operators to plead their members’ case for quieter aircraft. According to Chevalier, when the committee visited Eurocopter in Marignane, the delegation found the OEM already directing evolution in that direction. Focusing specifically on a new derivative of the Ecureuil/AStar, a customer focus group met with Eurocopter’s program director for light helicopters, Xavier de la Servette, to define specific requirements for the air-tour market. “We hit Eurocopter at the right time,” Chevalier told AIN. “Xavier was open to giving us what we wanted. His goal was to take the latest technology Eurocopter already had in stock and apply it to the solution.” In a word, evolution.
The air-tour focus group’s requirements included lower noise, air conditioning, good visibility from all seats, easy access and one more seat compared to the AS 350. The result was the EC 130.
Form Follows Function
The 130’s wider cabin gives the entire aircraft a squatter look than the Ecureuil/AStar. When viewed from the front this is, frankly, not particularly becoming. From this position, the wide fuselage looks boxy because it is, and the impression is accentuated by the EC 120-like skids, which spread to 7.57 ft.
From overhead the 130 resembles a tadpole with really big eyes, and conjures up memories of the Bell UH-1. But from the side, the EC 130 design is more pleasing, belying the model’s Ecureuil ancestry and actually looking more aerodynamic than its predecessor.
Looks aside, the EC 130’s boxy cabin means more space inside for the pilot and passengers, which is not a bad thing. Cabin volume, excluding the pilot’s portion, is 130.7 cu ft, compared to 105.9 cu ft in the AS 350B3. This is the direct result of air-tour operators’ request for comfortable seating for six passengers and good views all around. To improve the views from the back, the four rear seats are mounted on a removable platform that lifts these seats about two inches higher that the seats in the front row.
In the seven-seat configuration, the front row comprises three seats, with the pilot in the left seat and a copilot, instructor pilot or passenger in the center. This center seat and the one on the right can be replaced with three narrower seats, although this reduces comfort somewhat. Eurocopter calls this eight-seat configuration the “medium-density” version. (The AS 350B3 seats a maximum of seven.)
All seats are high backed and energy absorbing, and come with seat belts and dual-shoulder strap harnesses as standard equipment. The pilots’ seats are adjustable fore and aft; the passenger seats are fixed.
The rationale for positioning the pilot in the far left front seat is to keep the collective out of harm’s way when passengers are on board. (The model is also certified in a right-hand pilot configuration.) The two-pilot configuration can be used for air-medical operations, for example, with a stretcher placed to the copilot’s right and extending to the rear. With the copilot’s flight controls removed, a flight doctor or nurse could occupy the copilot position, in a swiveling seat that is not yet certified.
Noise is, of course, a major concern for air-tour operators, so Eurocopter made reduction of noise a high priority with the 130. Aerospatiale pioneered the shrouded tailrotor, which it calls a fenestron, and first put it on its AS 365 Dauphin. The EC 135 and 120 were the next to sprout fenestrons. The AS 350 series has a conventional tail rotor, so the switch to a fenestron is one of the major and most visible differences between the EC 130 and its Ecureuil/AStar predecessors.
The 10-blade fenestron, housed in the vertical fin, is from the EC 135, with one major difference: it rotates in the opposite direction, clockwise when viewed from the left side of the aircraft. Like the 135’s and 120’s fenestrons, the blades are not equally spaced, a configuration that provides less noise and vibration than equally spaced blades.
In cruise flight, the vertical fin provides enough of a weather-vaning effect to keep the nose straight, although this results in the tail-rotor control pedals being displaced slightly. The tail rotor itself, although still spinning, is unloaded aerodynamically.
Overall noise is further decreased by reducing rotor rpm (Nr) in flight, a feature
Eurocopter calls the “rotor-noise-signature reduction feature.” One can do this in other helicopters as well, by reducing the throttles or speed-control levers to decrease Nr, and some newer helicopters even have a switch that the pilot operates manually. (There is, of course, a limit to how far one can reduce rotor rpm in flight and still remain in flight.)
But Eurocopter has taken this a step further, making the rotor-rpm reduction automatic, a function of tail rotor position and density altitude. It is controlled via the 130’s engine Fadec. In a hover, the Fadec adjusts power output to maintain Nr at about 395 rpm. As the helicopter accelerates through 50 kt, the Fadec gradually reduces power output to decrease Nr by about 10 rpm to 385 rpm and maintains this level in cruise. On landing the Fadec increases Nr back to 396 rpm just before entering the hover. The transition takes about six seconds.
According to Eurocopter, the EC 130 has achieved a measured average ICAO (Annex 16, Chapter 8) noise level of 86.8 EPNdB, seven DB below the ICAO limit, and an overflight noise level of 84.3 EPNdB, 8.5 dB below the ICAO limit. This latter figure is 0.5 dB below the Grand Canyon National Park (GCNP) noise rule for a six-passenger aircraft and 1.2 dB below the GCNP noise rule for a seven-passenger aircraft.
With the wider fuselage and fenestron, it’s no surprise that the EC 130 is heavier than the AS 350B3. Empty weight of the 130 is 2,998 lb and mtow is 5,291 lb. The AS 350B3’s empty weight is 2,588 lb and its mtow is 4,960 lb.
However, the two models share a common engine, the 847-shp (takeoff) Turbomeca Arriel 2B1 turboshaft, so the EC 130’s performance suffers somewhat when compared to the AS 350B3. On the other hand, the 130’s Fadec gives the pilot more precise control over the engine, permitting–at least theoretically–him or her to pull that last shaft-horsepower from the engine without fear of exceeding limits.
For safety’s sake, the 130 has a two-channel Fadec as well as a fully independent fuel-control box in case of a double Fadec failure. A throttle control is on the collective, but it is used only for engine startup and shutdown, for engine reduction in case of a tail-rotor failure and during autorotation training.
The Fadec is based on a dual-channel digital engine control unit (called the electronic engine electronic control unit, or EECU). The basic principle is to control the engine power turbine seed (Nf) independently of the power drawn from the engine by adjusting gas generator speed (Ng) as needed.
The EECU provides fuel-flow modulation via a stepper motor driving a metering valve in the engine’s hydromechanical unit. If both channels are operating, channel A is given preference by a control device; if a failure is detected in one of the channels, control is shifted to the other channel.
The main functions of the Fadec are automatic engine starting (keeping power turbine inlet temperature, T4, in limits); protection against engine surge and flame outs during transient conditions; protection against Ng and torque exceedances; bleed valve monitoring; failure detection and indication; engine power check; Ng and Nf cycle counting; and the aforementioned control of Nf speed control with changes to rotor rpm to reduce noise.
In case of a total Fadec failure, the EC 130 has a backup governor that automatically takes control of engine fuel-flow monitoring. This system, which is based on an electronic computer and is independent of the Fadec, provides Nf control between 388 and 400 rpm; anti-flameout protection; and anti-surge protection (with Ng above 80 percent below a 20,000-ft pressure altitude).
The modular Turbomeca Arriel 2B1 turboshaft engine is positioned in a separate fireproof compartment behind the main gearbox (MGB) and above the rear cargo compartment. It is connected to the MGB by a shaft mounted between two flexible couplings. The engine’s five modules are the single-stage axial compressor, the gas generator (comprising a centrifugal compressor, an annular combustion chamber and a single-stage gas generator turbine), the free turbine, the reduction gear and the output shaft. The engine oil system has an external section and an internal section. The external part includes the oil tank, cooler and fireproof hoses. The internal section, integrated into the engine itself, comprises one pressure and three scavenge pumps, a filter with a bypass valve and two electrical/magnetic chip detectors.
The multifunction LCD vehicle and engine management display, or VEMD, is the heart of the EC 130’s cockpit instrumentation. It comprises two computing modules (lanes 1 and 2) and a display module, which includes two screens and control pushbuttons.
The VEMD has three operating modes: flight, config and maint. The flight mode is the default mode, automatically displayed if no other mode is selected. It contains pages for display of engine, vehicle, first limitation indicator (FLI), flight report and engine power check pages parameters. The other two modes, config (configuration) and maint (maintenance) are both accessible only on the ground with the engine stopped. config is used to tell the VEMD what optional equipment is installed on the aircraft and maint provides reports and data for maintenance use.
The flight mode operates in four phases, with the pages available varying by phase. In the initial phase, the upper and lower screens display test data; in the starting phase, engine parameters are on top and vehicle parameters on the bottom and the pilot may scroll through two more sets of pages. Both of these additional pages also display the engine parameters on the top screen, but the bottom screens change to the engine power check on the second page and a not-yet-available performance screen on the third. A software revision, the performance page will automatically calculate hover in-ground-effect (HIGE) and out-of-ground-effect (HOGE) performance, among other items, after the pilot inputs the necessary parameters.
The starting phase switches automatically to the flight phase when engine Ng passes 60 percent during the engine start. The flight phase of the flight mode provides the greatest number of pages, five in four combinations of two each. These are in order of scrolling (top screen/bottom screen): FLI/vehicle; engine/vehicle; engine/engine power check; and FLI/performance. Of all the pages, the FLI page is perhaps the most interesting. It is certainly the one the pilot will find most useful and view most often. Blue Hawaiian’s Chevalier called it “a beautiful thing.”
Dominating the display is the round-dial FLI gauge, graduated from zero to 11. It is exactly what its name implies, a gauge that tells the pilot that one of the critical parameters of Ng, T4, or torque is reaching its limit–the first limitation. Displayed vertically along the right side of the page are the actual values in digital form of these same parameters (in the order listed above, with OAT at the bottom). As these approach their limits, a yellow or red bar appears under the number, so in one glance the pilot quickly knows which limit the aircraft is reaching.
But even this is more than the pilot really needs to know when nearing a limit, regardless of which one. He just needs to know he’s getting close to something and therefore better make a correction soon. This information is provided by the round-dial FLI itself.
Also provided on the FLI page is a vertical-tape indication of fuel quantity along the left side and below it in digital form the total amount of fuel left. A Fadec condition light, which turns red if a Fadec channel fails, and the pressure altitude are provided at the bottom of the FLI screen. If one of the parameters on the FLI page becomes invalid, the engine page is displayed instead. This page shows T4, Ng and torque on independent round-dial gauges.
The engine power check page works in three phases to check the operation of the engine. After a check is performed, it displays the results according to six parameters (Ng, Nf, T4, Hp, Tq and OAT) and the positive or negative differences in T4 and torque.
The final page of the flight mode, as well as the last page to be displayed, is the flight report page. This page comes up on shutdown, replacing the vehicle page when the VEMD detects the engine is shutdown and Nr is below 70 percent. The page shows the number of the flight (increased incrementally), the total flight time (counting from Ng above 60 percent to Ng below 50 percent at shutdown); the gas generator and free turbine cycles and total cycles; and any discrepancies detected during the flight.
Mounted below the VEMD on the standard EC 130 instrument panel is a Garmin GNS430 with VHF, VOR, localizer, glideslope and GPS capabilities. Other avionics includes a Honeywell KX165A (VHF, VOR, localizer, glideslope with the frequency change controlled on the cyclic stick), a Honeywell KCS55A gyro-compass system (including a KI525 HIS), Honeywell KT76C mode-C transponder, Shadin 8800T altitude encorder, AIM 1100 gyro-horizon with slip indicator and Artex 100 HM ELT (121.5 MHz and 243 MHz).
Much of the EC 130’s engineering and many of its components are common with the AS 350B3, including the main airframe, mechanical assemblies, main rotor, engine core, command controls and VEMD. This, according to Eurocopter, helps make the EC 130 easier and less expensive to maintain. Chevalier, a long-time AStar operator, said, “I don’t believe that we’re testing much in the way of new technology, but rather newly put together, proven technology.” Average maintenance man-hours per flying hour are estimated at 0.53 hr, assuming 2.5 flight hours per day, 0.3 hr of unscheduled maintenance per flight hour and two engine cycles per hour of operation. Although Blue Hawaiian only began operating its first EC 130 last month, Chevalier expects this number to be close. “After 140,000 hours with AStars and B2s over 12 years, we’ve found that the cost numbers Eurocopter publishes meet ours almost to the penny,” he told AIN. TBOs for the main gearbox, tail gearbox, main servo and engine modules are all set at or targeted for 3,000 hr.
The EC 130’s 143-gal (939-lb) spin-mould fuel tank is positioned behind the cabin and under the transmission deck. It includes a primer pump, used only during engine start, fuel level and low-level transmitters, a drain valve, a filler on the left-hand side and vent on the right side. The fuel is routed through a fuel shutoff valve (used in case of fire or other emergencies) and drawn up by a low-pressure pump to the combined fuel/oil filter. This filter assembly also functions as a heat exchanger, allowing operation down to -20 deg C without anti-ice addition in the fuel.
A high-pressure valve sucks the fuel through the filter assembly. The filter includes a bypass valve in case of filter clogging, an electrical pre-clogging indicator and a low-pressure detector.
From the high-pressure pump the fuel is delivered to the hydromechanical unit of the Fadec. In case of a total Fadec failure, the backup governor controls fuel flow via a backup valve. When the Fadec is operating normally, the backup system is held in the neutral position.
The three-blade main rotor is semi-rigid and uses Eurocopter’s Starflex rotor hub that has no ball bearings or lubrication. The main rotor rotates clockwise, when viewed from above. The composite arms of the Starflex hub provide flapping while the elastomeric components provide lead-lag and pitch movement. The rotor blades are constructed of flexible, glass-resin laminates.
The transmission comprises the main gearbox, engine-to-MGB coupling, tail-rotor drive shaft and tail gearbox. The MGB includes its own lubricating system, monitoring systems (temperature, pressure and magnetic chip detectors) and access for maintenance. The lubricating pump sucks up the oil from the MGB sump through a strainer and delivers it through an oil cooler and a filter. The oil returns to the sump by gravity. The tail-rotor shaft comprises three shafts, connected to each other, the engine and the tail gearbox by four flexible couplings. The tail gearbox is splash lubricated and monitored by a magnetic chip detector.
The dual hydraulic system comprises two independent circuits, which are virtual mirror images of each other. If one system fails, full hydraulic boost is still available. The only difference between the two systems is the source of drive for the respective pumps. The left-hand circuit pump is driven by the MGB front accessory mechanical output while the right-hand hydraulic circuit is belt driven by the engine power drive shaft located at the MGB power input.
At engine start, hydraulic pressure is zero since rotor rpm is also zero. When the pressure in the two circuits reaches between 290 psi and 435 psi, the hydraulic low-pressure warning light goes out. Normal pressure is maintained between 493 psi and 522 psi.
The primary electrical system uses 28-volt DC regulated voltage. An AC power system is available as an optional installation for aircraft equipped with an autopilot, gyroscopic instruments or other specific requirements. Three DC power sources are available: a 4.5 kW, 28-volt DC starter-generator located on the engine accessory gearbox; a 15-amp-hr battery in the right cargo bay; and a 28-volt external power unit plug on the right side. A second battery installation is optional.
An electrical master box controls the operation of the three power sources with the following functions: regulation of the starter- generator; connection of the power sources to the electrical network; distribution and protection of the network against failure of the power sources; and interface of the electrical generation, distribution, indicating, control and monitoring systems.
Ancillary systems, comprising three ancillary systems unit cards, manage all the aural alarms, the engine fuel-governing backup system and some visual warnings. The caution and warning panel includes six red warnings for alarms which require immediate action and 18 amber caution lights for items requiring action that can be deferred.
Flying the EC 130
The Paris Air Show adds an undeniable element of panache to a demonstration flight while at the same time restricting the maneuvers possible and flight time available. That said, helicopters, relegated as they are to the airshow heliport on the far northeast corner of Le Bourget, have an advantage over their fixed-wing brethren during the show. While normally such a location would be inconvenient, the traffic everywhere else, both on the ground and in the air, makes the out-of-the way location actually more convenient, relatively speaking, for demonstration flying.
I was also lucky in another way, in that Eurocopter’s fluide demo flight schedule (customers always take precedence over the press) ended up with my EC 130 flight being the last scheduled for the day. So instead of the usual 20 or 30 min afforded, I got nearly 50 min in the aircraft. Although this was still less than the two-hour minimum I prefer for such reports (split between two sorties), it still gave me a good feel for the aircraft and enough time to evaluate most of its systems and much of its performance.
Eurocopter experimental test pilot Didier Delsalle had been flying demonstrations in the second EC 130 prototype, F-WQES, all day, but was still amiable and attentive to my questions. Like any good demo pilot, he knew the aircraft inside out and was an enthusiastic spokesman for his charge. When he took the controls during the flight, he handled the machine as if it were an extension of his own body.
It was hot for a June day in Paris, 84 deg F (29 deg C). Our takeoff weight was 4,365 lb, about 925 lb below mtow. Because it was the last flight of the day and I was not a customer, two passengers were invited to climb on board for the flight. Delsalle took the center copilot seat (with full controls), a young woman sat next to him in the right front seat and an older gentleman sat in the back. They spoke French, so it wasn’t until after the flight that I found out the gentleman was Bernard Certain, the chief flight-test engineer for the EC 120, and the young woman the daughter of de la Servette, the Ecureuil/Fennec program director.
The EC 130’s preflight walkaround is standard for a turbine helicopter of its size, with no particular idiosyncrasies. The turnaround check is very simple: overall condition; engine, main gearbox and tail gearbox oil levels; condition of the main- and tail-rotor blades; all cowlings locked; any loads secured and doors secured.
After everyone was seated and belted, the rotor brake checked off and throttle twist grip set in the idle position, Delsalle instructed me to switch on the battery. The governor and Fadec systems ran through their automatic tests and Delsalle checked the lights and engine fire warning systems. The VEMD showed the engine and vehicle pages and indicated that battery power was above 22 volts.
I checked the control pedals for freedom of travel, then set neutral, and the collective placed down and locked. The pedals adjust fore and aft, as well as the seat. I quickly found a comfortable position for my 5-ft 9-in. frame.
Delsalle switched on the fuel booster pump and anti-collision light, and after 30 sec to give the pump time, he had me place the engine start selector to the on position. We watched as Ng increased and the engine lit, evidenced by T4 increasing at a good clip. As expected, the dual-channel Fadec kept T4 below the start limit of 750 deg C continuous (865 deg C max transient), the main rotor began turning as Ng passed 25 percent and the engine oil pressure increased.
At 60 percent Ng, the VEMD upper screen automatically switched to the FLI display, the lower screen staying on the vehicle display. As Ng passed 67 percent, the engine oil, MGB oil, hydraulic fluid and fuel pressure lights all extinguished, as they should. Delsalle turned on the pitot heat and switched off the fuel booster pump.
We tested the servos by pushing the servo pushbutton and watching the test sequence. Delsalle lowered the starting selector guard. If we had used an external power unit, it would have been disconnected at this point. Delsalle turned on the air conditioning, which is an option, but can’t be turned on until the engine is running. It cooled down the cabin quickly.
Engine runup consists of just four items. The throttle twist grip is increased to the flight position, and left there for the rest of a normal flight. When Nr increases above 340 rpm, the aural warning switch is checked. Then Nr is checked stabilized in the green range. Finally, step four, check that no warning lights are illuminated and all other indications are in the green.
Delsalle handled the radios, received clearance and bravely allowed me to lift into a hover. Bravely because there were helicopters parked on either side of us and he knew whom the passengers were. Fortunately, I did not disgrace myself.
The EC 130’s cyclic and collective frictions should be adjusted so that the friction forces can be felt by the pilot when moving the controls. Delsalle knew just where to set these. As I pulled the collective upward while waiting to correct yaw with the pedals, I positioned the cyclic at what I figured would be a neutral position.
The skids slipped off the grass and we popped into a low hover with hardly a wobble. The controls felt just right, not too loose and not too tight. I hover-taxied to one of the asphalt helipads, gingerly feeling my way with the controls, but gaining confidence along the way.
In a five-foot hover, I added power, lowered the nose and allowed F-WQES to accelerate across the ground. Maximum takeoff power is easy to find: it’s 10.0 on the first limitation indicator (FLI) on the VEMD, but I pulled only about 9.0. The flight manual calls for increasing airspeed to 40 kt and then climb so as to clear 20 ft at an indicated airspeed of 50 kt.
Above 100 ft, to achieve maximum climb performance, the manual recommends holding 70 kt (Vy) and max continuous power (MCP). This power setting is also found on the FLI–9.6. Fast-cruise power is defined as the first limitation reached corresponding to the beginning of the amber area on the FLI. The underlined mechanical or engine figure (Tq, Ng or T4) tells which is the limiting parameter. To find the power setting for most economic cruise, set torque to 10 percent under its MCP value.
Exiting Le Bourget, we had to fly eastward over a Citroen factory and stay low to avoid Charles de Gaulle Airport traffic just to the north. I had hoped to see rotor rpm decrease automatically as we reached 50 kt or so, but I was concentrating too much on following Delsalle’s directions and looking out for other traffic. No problem. I had plenty of opportunities to see the rotor-noise-signature reduction feature work later.
We then flew south over the A3 motorway a short way until we reached the Canal de l’Ourcq, which, as we followed it, kept us south of CDG’s parallel runways and hopefully flying neighborly between the populated suburbs of northeast Paris. When we reached open fields, we were allowed to climb and navigate on our own. Delsalle directed me southeast, toward Meaux-Esbly, a small grass airfield near the town of Meaux on the Marne River.
The route gave me time to become familiar with the EC 130’s flying characteristics. From the left seat, with the control panel directly in front and a wide field-of-view forward, it was easy to get a feeling of being in the center of the aircraft. With no fixed outside reference in view, I found flying a straight track without a bit of slip was a problem. The low-tech yaw indicator, a piece of yarn fastened to the window post to my right, helped but was not without error, as Delsalle explained.
Because the EC 130’s cabin was widened and a center window inserted between two posts where there had been one before, yarn attached to either post is displaced slightly to the side when the aircraft is flying straight. It took several glances at the turn-and-slip indicator and the yaw before I figured out the correct displacement of the yaw yarn to keep the aircraft in trim.
We cruised smoothly at 115 kt to 120 kt, but at about 125 kt the ride was choppier, although still not uncomfortable. It didn’t seem to get much worse until about 140 kt. Power-on Vne is 155 kt.
At Meaux-Esbly, we avoided a couple Cessna 152s in the traffic pattern and set up for an approach to the grassy end of one of the runways. Throughout the descent, the helicopter remained stable, with a relatively flat attitude, and the landing spot was in sight.
Passing through what I expected to be translational lift, there were hardly any additional vibrations, even when I raised the nose to slow the descent. As we slowed down, rotor rpm increased automatically as advertised. I stopped in a hover.
Loose grass and clumps of earth swirled around us, kicked up by our own rotor wash. I worried about sucking chunks into the engine, but Delsalle was unperturbed. With the engine behind the transmission, the intake is on top of the fuselage, behind the rotor mast, and screened. The air scoop on the top of the front part of the fuselage is for the engine and transmission oil coolers. The natural air flow of the rotor keeps most debris out of both intakes. For operations in severe FOD conditions, an optional engine-inlet particle separator is available.
The wind was stronger here than at Le Bourget, gusting up to about 15 kt. I practiced a few touchdowns from a hover, getting more comfortable with the machine, and did hovering turns in both directions. With its fenestron tail rotor, the EC 130 showed much less tendency than conventional-tailed helicopters to weather vane into the wind when the nose was turned crosswind. Tailwind maneuvering was noticeably easier. I had the mental impression, while hovering backwards, of slicing through water with the bow of a boat. Hovering sideways left and right with both the nose and the tail into the wind showed good heading control.
Delsalle mentioned there is no crosswind limitation on the 130 in the flight manual. He took the controls, told me to watch the groundspeed readout on the Garmin GPS and proceeded to fly sideward to the left with the nose in the wind. We hit 47 kt before running out of runway. He flew sideward to the right and we hit 52 kt. The only other helicopter I’ve flown faster sideways was the Sikorsky S-76 test aircraft that was fitted with a Fantail, another shrouded tail rotor that was developed for the RAH-66 Comanche.
The flight manual also puts no limitations on bank, although it does forbid aerobatic maneuvers (as well as flight in freezing rain, icing conditions and under falling snow). Delsalle had me climb to 1,500 ft and asked if I’d like to do a wingover. I have not done a wingover for a long, long time, so I gave him the controls. He pulled the nose up nearly vertically, allowed it to slide off to the left, then pulled the helicopter back level. I glanced at our passengers. Both seemed nonplussed, which surprised me. (Remember, I didn’t yet know who they were.)
I took the controls and went through a series of steep turns both ways. Still at altitude, I slowed to zero knots, holding the high OGE hover for a few moments before lowering the nose and accelerating at MCP. At 130 kt, I reared back on the nose to slow up in a high hover again.
Delsalle had me line up for an autorotation and instructed me on how to retard the throttle. The twist grip has two positions: flight and idle. The normal position in flight is, of course, the flight position, but you can roll the throttle to idle and nothing will happen. You must roll the throttle past idle and against a spring to get it into idle, and you have to hold it there. This I did with some difficulty the first time and was a bit slow on lowering the collective. Rotor rpm began to droop, but it quickly recovered once I got the collective down.
Best glide speed is Vy, 70 kt, and I found it difficult to hold more than 65 kt. Delsalle said it didn’t matter. Rate of descent was just under 2,000 fpm, which is normal for this size and weight helicopter. In an actual autorotation, the flight manual recommends flaring at about 70 ft. We flared at about 100 ft to give time to affect a power recovery. I simply released the throttle, the spring brought it back to idle, and the Fadec applied all the power we required as I pulled collective to stop the descent.
I’m not particularly fond of autorotations with power recoveries because I don’t think they really teach one how to do a real autorotation. The hardest part of an actual autorotation is at the end, as you approach the ground with only one shot at using the momentum built up in the rotor to slow the aircraft down and land level with as little airspeed as possible. But even an autorotation with a power recovery gives one an idea of the power-off characteristics of a helicopter, so I asked to do another. I did a max performance takeoff to climb to altitude as quickly as possible and came back around for the autorotation. This time my familiarity with the throttle helped make the entry smoother and I had better airspeed control as well. I made a mental note that a little training in the EC 130 goes a long way.
Time was running out. Delsalle needed to ferry some people to Paris Issy les Moulineaux heliport in the city, so we headed back toward Le Bourget. We did not have an opportunity to try slope landings. The flight manual limits are a respectable six degrees nose up and down and eight degrees sideways.
Hovering back to the parking spot at the Le Bourget show heliport, I felt like I had several hours in the 130 under my belt, rather than less than one. I had little difficulty parking F-WQES between two other helicopters. Engine and rotor shutdown goes quickly, with 30 sec of engine cooling at idle the checklist item taking the longest time. The rotor brake goes on at 140 rpm, although in strong winds it may be applied at 170 rpm.
Before leaving F-WQES, we checked the flight report page on the VEMD for flight time (:48) and discrepancies (none). Switching off the battery was the final item.
If practical application of Darwinian evolution were a college course, Eurocopter would get an A for the EC 130B4. Except for its boxy look from the front and its decreased performance in comparison to the AS 305B3, I really cannot find any fault with the machine. Both of these criticisms must be examined under the light of purpose. Air-tour operators wanted an aircraft that provided more space for passengers, was less noisy and easy to operate. Long range and exceptional OGE hover capability were secondary and not needed for the typically short air-tour missions. The 130 fulfills all of its goals while still providing better-than-adequate performance for most other missions as well. Eurocopter really got this one right.
Darwin would be proud.
Blue Hawaiian Launches EC 130 Air-touring
Breaking with aviation tradition at HeliExpo’01 in Anaheim, Calif. Eurocopter literally and figuratively pulled the wraps off its EC 130B4, not as an aircraft under development, but as a certified machine. Not only that, but it ceremoniously delivered at the same time that very same helicopter to the model’s launch customer, Blue Hawaiian Helicopters of Kahului, Maui, Hawaii.
That was in February. So it was a bit surprising when AIN last month called David Chevalier, Blue Hawaiian’s president, to find out his impression of the helicopter after having operated it for a few months, only to learn that the company’s first EC 130 had begun flying fare-paying sightseers only on August 6.
“We received the helicopter on June 19,” Chevalier told AIN. “It was air-freighted from France to Honolulu. We assembled it there and then flew it to Maui.” France? “Yes, it was shipped back to the factory after HeliExpo. There were some delays in finishing it, mainly getting the air conditioning installed.” Before putting the helicopter into service, Blue Hawaiian engineers added a video system with four cameras and four VCRs, a CD-audio system and a monitor on the instrument panel so the pilot can see what the cameras are showing.
Given such limited experience, one could argue that the shine had yet to wear off Blue Hawaiian’s new toy when AIN called. Nonetheless, Chevalier, who with wife Patti is principal owner of the company, was effusive with praise for the aircraft. “The customers like it, the pilots love it and I like it, I really do,” he said. “There’s no question that this is something we have wanted from the manufacturers for many years. We have national park issues and live on an island. We have no choice but to fly over the same areas. Therefore, quiet technology is critical for us.”
He said passengers are “extremely positive” about the view from every seat in the EC 130. Pilots like the extra heft of the model’s 847-shp Turbomeca 2B1 engine, compared with the lower powered AStars in Blue Hawaiian’s fleet (six AS 350BAs and nine AS 350B2s). One pilot told him the EC 130 cuts four minutes off the climb to 10,000 ft (11 min vs 15 min) on one of the more popular tours.
Blue Hawaiian offers a variety of excursions around the islands (sample price: $215 per person for a 65-min tour) and will eventually add a 20-percent premium to all its rates for EC 130 trips. The air-tour company’s average load factor for its six-seat AStars is 5.4 passengers per flight. Chevalier said he expects the load factor in the EC 130 to be 6.3, after Blue Hawaiian receives more of new helicopters. Three more are due for delivery this year, four next year and two in 2003. At HeliExpo, the company held a firm order for three and was considering ordering 15 more. Chevalier subsequently ordered seven more, for a total of 10. The base price was $1.6 million, but with options (cargo hook and floats) the price rose to $1.738 million.
Chevalier said the only mechanical problems Blue Hawaiian’s had with its first EC 130 so far were with the air conditioning, which had a sticky switch. The system itself is more than adequate, he said; in fact, a little too good. “I think we’re going to have to downgrade it some.”
In business since 1985, Blue Hawaiian has more than 140,000 hr of AStar flight experience and is a Eurocopter service center. “The AStar is a tried-and-true helicopter,” said Chevalier, “and I’ve found that Eurocopter’s numbers for the AS 350BA and B2 are very accurate. I expect the EC 130 to require even less maintenance.”