Aircraft mentioned in this article :
Airbus Helicopters, February 19, 2020 - by Belén Morant - It’s -8 ºC in Gunnison, Colorado, USA, where BLR is performing flight tests with an H125 to complete the certification procedure for the FastFin system.
This Airbus-approved Supplement Type Certificate (STC) has also already been approved by EASA, the FAA, as well as the certification authorities of India, Canada, Mexico and Brazil. The process is also under way in China and Keith Ray, Director, Commercial Helicopters Sales at BLR, is optimistic: “You’ll hear from us as soon as we have it.”
It’s no coincidence that BLR has chosen to perform these tests with the H125 in Gunnison, which is located at an elevation of more than 2,300 metres. The altitude, the cold temperatures and the Rocky Mountains provide the ideal setting to put the FastFin system to the test.
Upon entering the hangar, one thing immediately catches our eye about the H125: the tail boom looks slightly different than usual.
“The FastFin kit comprises several components: an Advanced Tailboom Aerodynamic Cowling (ATAC), a Tailboom Strake and Vortex Generators,” explains Dan Smith, who has been responsible for conducting all certification and flight tests for BLR for the past 14 years.
Dan and Ron, who is the mechanic, take the H125 out onto the helipad; it looks like the snow has stopped and we’ll be able to fly over the mountains. Time for a safety briefing, then we’re ready for Dan to show us what it’s like to fly with the FastFin system.
Take off! The helicopter begins to lift and Dan tells us to look at his feet, but I don’t see anything. That’s precisely what’s so surprising: the pedals hardly move.
“During takeoff, there is less pedal input. Also in the air, especially when we hover, there is no need for any pedal movements with your feet. You need less input to keep the aircraft stable and in line. It gives us a greater control margin,” Dan says. “This improves safety. Both from a control-margin perspective, but also with respect to pilot workload, especially on Utility missions, when pilots can fly around eight hours per day, and will be exhausted at the end of the journey.”
We’re amazed at how smooth the flight is, despite the fact that a 30 knot wind has risen up, which is sending a barrage of snow down from the peaks. The H125 hovers before it lands on American Mountain at an altitude of nearly 4,000 metres so we can film the FastFin-equipped H125 being put through its paces, with Dan taking every precaution in the white-out conditions. Once again, we’re impressed by the smoothness of the movements.
We follow Dan at the controls of the H125 via walkie-talkie as he pulls off some truly amazing feats that bear testimony to the Ecureuil’s incredible manoeuvrability. Our hands are frozen stiff now; it’s time to hear the pilot give his impressions of the flight.
“I can tell a big difference when flying with the FastFin system. It makes the aircraft more stable in hover position, something very important in the Utility segment when working with external workloads. It also increases payload capability, which gives me more of a power margin,” our pilot explains.
Aerial work… and much more
Dan explains that the more than 40 operators already equipped with the FastFin system around the world are using it for aerial work with the H125. But BLR believes that it could also facilitate the work of EMS operators and law enforcement agencies in particular.
“EMS operations are very complicated. You have to land in unfamiliar locations, with no idea what kind of wind conditions you’ll find. The FastFin system offers a greater control margin in any wind conditions, which is a major plus for pilots. Meanwhile, law enforcement agencies that frequently use hover flight for surveillance and fast-roping would benefit from the greater stability, as well as the reduced pilot workload,” says Dan.
The first new H125 to be equipped with the FastFin system by Airbus was delivered to HeliAustria in May 2018.
However, Keith points out that there are many possible ways for operators of the H125 to install the kit: “Airbus Helicopters includes the FastFin system as an option for new H125s built on its assembly line in France, but it can also be installed as an aftermarket option through the company’s network of Customer Centres. If an operator decides to install the FastFin system themselves, BLR provides a technician free of charge to make sure everything’s done in the best possible manner. We’re here to ensure the FastFin system offers customers both an enjoyable experience and a rapid return on their investment.”
FastFin in figures
- FAA certified in 2016 and EASA certified in 2017
- 40 H125 fly with the FastFin system in eight countries
- Up to 120 lbs / 55 kg useful load increase in OGE hover
- Up to 10% increase in available right pedal