Heli-Expo 2011: Bell Finally Finds Happiness with BLR’s FastFins
“Bell Loves BLR” might sound like street graffiti, but it’s not far from the point.
When helicopter aerodynamics modifier BLR Aerospace (Booth No. 1814) first approached Bell Helicopter some four years ago for its blessing on tailboom mods to improve the handling and performance of its medium helicopters, the OEM dismissed the engineering firm’s advances. Undeterred by this rebuff and continued firm resistance from Bell, BLR persisted and sold its FastFin system successfully to operators of the Bell 204, 205, UH-1, Huey II, 212 and 412.
Bell is not alone among OEMs in regarding modifications to its machinery with deep distrust, and when you look at the modifiers from the OEMs’ perspective, it’s easy to understand the roots of this skepticism. The manufacturer has spent years and many millions of dollars designing, testing, certifying and developing its aircraft, and if an ill-conceived mod blots that aircraft’s copybook, the OEM’s reputation stands to suffer through no fault of its own. Sometimes the market sees the modifiers as the innovators and the OEM as the roadblock to product improvement. Sometimes these battles rage with no resolution. This one has run its course.
Eventually, to BLR’s delight, Bell could no longer ignore the favorable reviews from operators, and now the OEM has embraced BLR’s mods with as much vigor as it initially rejected them. Dave Marone, BLR’s vice president of sales and marketing, is unfailingly complimentary of his dealings with Bell over the years, from the president on down, but he singles out three people as playing a particularly significant role in effecting the sea change at Bell. They are Barry Kohler, appointed president of Bell Canada about a year ago; Larry Roberts, senior v-p of commercial products; and Ernie Senn, project manager for medium helicopters.
At the time of Marone’s first meeting with Kohler in June 2009, Kohler was v-p of commercial programs. Over the course of that four-hour meeting, Marone recalls, Kohler recognized the value of an up to 91-percent improvement in useful load (that is the 1,250-pound gain in IGE hover performance for a Bell 412 after modification with BLR’s FastFin system) and he seemed increasingly interested in improving the fleet.
Strakes on the left-hand side of the tailboom at the seven and 11 o’clock positions improve stability and boost left-pedal authority by 8 to 12 percent by stalling airflow to produce a low-pressure zone on the left side of the boom while maintaining laminar flow on the right side, thus creating a pressure differential that contributes to the anti-torque process.
Far from knocking the OEM for being block-headed, Marone attributes some of Bell’s initial reluctance to BLR’s failure to explain exactly how its system works. “Once we got that focused and had 300 helicopters equipped, the voice of the market grew more persuasive,” said Marone.
The in-service certified fleet of 800 Bell 412s, 700 Bell 212s, 450 UH-1s (restricted category) and 300 Bell 204/205s is a healthy market for BLR’s mods, and the company expects to convert half that fleet. Bell has now made the BLR FastFin (which comprises the strakes and a redesigned tailfin) standard factory equipment on the 412EP. The first example so equipped was delivered to Falcon Helicopters in Dubai for offshore work last November. Bell now sees the BLR mods as an effective way to extend the viability of the 412.
Next on BLR’s list of targets are Bell’s light helicopters, the 206B and 206L, and some helicopters not built by Bell. Look for some Eurocopter models to receive the BLR treatment by late next year.