A new generation of civil helicopters is about to enter into service. It will do so shortly, in the largest cities worldwide for business and private (or even public) transportation, as well as in the narrowest crevices between mountains or in inaccessible lands for emergency medical service or rescue, and even passenger transport (i.e., offshore). In fact, 2019 is the year in which the new H160 by Airbus Helicopters will complete its certification phase with first deliveries following early 2020.
The pilots who whizzed through the skies with the new H160 during flight tests speak of an extremely stable vehicle, with superior performance: it has a range of 800 km, reach a top speed of almost 290 km/h and carry up to 12 passengers. Depending on its configuration, it can become a flying limousine or an ambulance equipped with the latest equipment: without overlooking that noise emissions have been minimized and fuel consumption reduced by 15% compared to helicopters of the past.
In many ways (for example, the use of carbon between the materials of which it is made and advanced digital equipment), the H160 represents the future of helicopter transport and this is why Avio Aero considers it a very important program within its helicopter products which includes also global leading mechanical transmissions.
In fact, the new Airbus medium size helicopter is equipped with three sophisticated accessory gearboxes (AGB) produced by Avio Aero at the Rivalta di Torino plant: one front and two side transmissions. The AGBs are installed on the Main Gear Box, the main transmission that transmits motion from the engines to the helicopter blades, and represent a basic element for the aircraft's energy supply chain from the moment it is switched on, to any electrical or electronic equipment on board.
"We delivered the first transmission kits that will be used in the final stages of certification and we are proceeding with those that will be assembled in mass production" explains Gabriele Di Carlo, engineer with a ten-year career in both the civil and military helicopter industry, who since this summer has been the Program Manager for the H160 at Avio Aero.
“Furthermore, we are the only supplier for this product and this has made the collaboration with Airbus very close and effective. On technical level, we have found ourselves committed with enthusiasm in facing unprecedented challenges for a next-generation program, side by side," continues Di Carlo, highlighting how, while working on the Airbus Helicopters exclusive design, the Italian team working with the French industry leader is large, inter-functional and consists of engineers with high technological skills.
Alessandro Ghio, for example, is the Leader of Avio Aero's NPI (New Product Introduction) Technologies team and deals with the most innovative programs for aviation. He has been working for the company for almost twenty years, in positions ranging from the Technical Representative at GE Aviation for commercial airplane engines, followed by engines with unique transmission systems, such as the TP400, and his latest experience includes the GE CT7/6 (in the T700family of turbo-shaft engines) and GE9X programs. Today Ghio focuses not only on the H160, but also on the futuristic (and high-speed) Airbus Helicopters technological demonstration unit, the Racer.
"The transmissions we produced for the H160 require the dedicated certification of our special processes," says Ghio. “These are bevel and cylindrical gears that undergo carburizing and other special processes that make the metal they are made of exceptionally resistant.” The resistance and reliability of certain components on the aircraft that base their performance on very high speed rotations (the gears alone reach tens of thousands of revolutions per minute), are characteristics studied in every detail.
"In particular, for this program an outstanding relationship has been established with the Airbus Engineering team", continues Ghio, "aimed at optimizing the design according to our production capacities and special processes."
Talking to the team that is handling the gearbox products, their commitment looks immediately clear and strong: the transmissions are undoubtedly a crucial product for helicopter propulsion and building them is a rare specialty that Avio Aero owns since decades for several remarkable aircraft. They are metal objects with unique properties and peculiar designs, objects with such small dimensions that they resemble the shiny gears of luxury watches, but in this case, powering an aircraft, they’re able to endure fatigue and volcanic temperatures.
Helicopter images are courtesy of Airbus Helicopters © A. Pecchi