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THE AW609 TILTROTOR UPDATE The AW609 has been a long time in the making but AgustaWestland is confident the aircraft will be certified and delivered in 2017. Christina Hogarth catches up with Clive Scott to find out more about this highly anticipated aircraft and the changes it has gone through in the past two years.


ccording to AW609 program manager, Clive Scott, interest in the AW609 is still strong, despite several delays that the program has faced. “Based on market projections and on our current order book, both commercial and governmental operators have shown a considerable interest in the AW609,” says Scott. Almost 60 orders have been placed for the AW609 to be used in a wide range of applications, predominantly commercial, but also including government type customers. “The tiltrotor concept is, for example, very attractive for SAR/EMS (search and rescue/emergency medical services), long range offshore operators, patrol and for VIP customers alike. Market forecasts exceed 400 units,” adds Scott. In the October 2011 issue of Helinews, Australian Naval Commander Chris Smallhorn assessed the benefits of the tiltrotor as an EMS aircraft in Australia. The feature, entitled ‘A Niche Mission’ compared the advantages and disadvantages of fixed-wing versus helicopter in remote EMS operations. The article highlighted the AW609’s suitability at reaching remote areas due to its unique capabilities of speed/range and vertical take-off and landings. Smallhorn suggested that the aircraft would be a breakthrough in this environment, but said that costs could prevent the AW609 from being an option in Australia.

COST OF THE AW609 Speculation on the price of the AW609 has been circulating for some time, which is why Helinews decided to go straight to the source in the hope of obtaining a rough estimate on costs. “It is a well-established AgustaWestland (AW) policy not to disclose the unit price of its products. This varies a lot depending on type, mission, configuration and customisation, as well as tailored support and training package,” says Scott. He is able, however, to provide some insight as to what we might expect. “What we can say as a rule of thumb is that the AW609 price is expected to be not significantly higher than that of a traditional helicopter of the same MTOW (maximum take-off weight) (seven- to eight-tonne class). Tiltrotors and helicopters cannot be compared like-for-like. For the game changing capabilities the AW609 will bring to the market, the price relative to a helicopter of the same MTOW will provide an exceptional value proposition.” Scott says that maintenance for the AW609 will be competitive in both availability and cost. “We don’t predict specific maintenance issues compared with a helicopter. Furthermore, AgustaWestland has a growing maintenance network that fully includes Australasia. Direct maintenance cost analyses form part of the development and certification program to ensure the aircraft is competitive once available for service.”

On 26 August 2013, the Bell 407GX made a grand entrance at Essendon Airport as a part of its Australian tour. Helinews was able to get on board for a test flight around Melbourne.

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CHASING KIMBERLEY imberley is a small dot on the map somewhere in the centre of the drier regions of South Africa that marks a town well-known for its Big Hole and its great diamond wealth. Sir Ernest Oppenheimer began there as a diamond buyer in the early 1920s and rose to build De Beers and Anglo American, two of the world’s most powerful diamond and gold mining empires. Today, the Big Hole and accompanying museum complex is a major tourist attraction visited by thousands of people from all over the world. For me though, Kimberley is the place where I completed my helicopter game, cull and livestock rating, and nearly lost my life in the process. Approximately 65 kilometres north-west of Kimberley’s Big Hole is Rooipoort, a 40,000-hectare private nature reserve owned by the Oppenheimer family. It is vast and rugged; and even beautiful in a Northern Cape kind of way, with luxury safari camps, magnificent drives and a variety of African game species including kudu, zebra, eland, gemsbok, springbok and wildebeest. In order to manage the large animal populations, specialist teams are brought in each year to capture surplus animal numbers using helicopters, a complex assortment of nets, screens and other capture equipment, and heavy transport trucks. The animals are then relocated to other reserves or sold. After working as a ranger and safari guide in the wildlife industry for a number of years, I was keen to get into wildlife capture operations as a pilot. I had accumulated several hundred flying hours on helicoptersin general aviation and flight instruction and was ready to branch into wildlife flying. A mentor and senior civil aviation inspector referred me to John Blythe-Wood for training.


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Live animal capture can be a tricky game to master and one full of potential threats. Mike Reid recalls his early days of herding in South Africa and is thankful he lived to tell the tale. “John’s probably one of the best game capture pilots you will find anywhere in Africa and he’s a good friend of mine. I’ll speak to him and see if I can get him to agree to train you. He doesn’t tolerate fools, so if he doesn’t like you, he will tell you to bugger off quickly – it will be up to you to make a go of it.” I met John at Grand Central Airport. He was the kind of larger-than-life character that one reads about in books – he had served through the Rhodesian Bush War as a jet fighter pilot and helicopter pilot and then started a live animal capture company in South Africa with a friend, Sean Rambert, after the war ended. John was tall and well-built, exuded an aura of no-nonsense confidence and, as I later discovered, maintained a fine balance between a quick temper and mischievous humour. He was a good businessman and an outstanding pilot. After brief introductions and fleeting small talk he said he would train me on the job at Kimberley, where he would be working in a couple of weeks, if I found my own way there. Kimberley was halfway across the country from where I lived, but I took some annual leave, rounded up my family and we headed for the Northern Cape. My wife’s family farmed in the area, so she and the children visited while I was with John at Rooipoort. I had been watching John and familiarising myself with capture operations for a few days when he called me across from where he was pre-flighting the helicopter. “Come, jump in with me Mike. We’re going to catch some zebra. You can sit next to me and watch how it’s done. If it gets a bit hairy with the weight I’ll drop you somewhere.” I glanced across at the tiny Robinson R22, dusty and battered with no doors and rotors sagging in mock AUTUMN.2014

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Into the black On 18 August 2011, just after 7pm, the ABC’s Sydney-based AS 355 F2 helicopter crashed near Lake Eyre in South Australia. The crash claimed three distinguished lives including the broadcaster’s long-time Sydney pilot Gary Ticehurst, experienced cameraman John Bean and acclaimed journalist Paul Lockyer. The Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB)’s final report on the crash was released on 14 November 2013 following an exhaustive investigation. Among its findings, the ATSB concluded that: “…after initiating the right turn at 1500 feet, the pilot probably became spatially disoriented. Factors contributing to the disorientation included dark night conditions, high pilot workload A property under threat at Molesworth.


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associated with establishing the helicopter in cruise flight and probably attempting to correct the fly-to point in a GPS unit, the pilot’s limited recent night flying and instrument flying experience, and the helicopter not being equipped with an autopilot.” Within subsequent media and industry commentary regarding the crash and the outcomes of the investigation, there has been much discussion regarding the safety of night flight in helicopters and possible changes to rules surrounding helicopter NVFR (night visual flight rules) operations. To get some perspective on these issues, Martin Boss sought insights from three highly experienced instructors with training specialities in a range of night operations.

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The night VFR perspective Bill Miller is the owner and CFI (chief flying instructor) of Sydney-based Bankstown Helicopters. For over 20 years, Miller has been training ab initio and commercial students and has seen many through their night VFR ratings. In his estimation, safety in night operations comes down to one critical element – discipline. “The bottom line is that in the planning, preparation and decisionmaking that occurs in the ground and in the air with every flight, the pilot needs to adopt a set of disciplines that ensure that all these facets are conducted with the required rigour and thoughtfulness to ensure safe flight,” he says. “In night VFR operations, the workload for the helicopter pilot is exponentially higher and the margin for error is greatly reduced. This means that these disciplines must be applied to an even greater degree than in day VFR flight.” In Miller’s assessment, the golden rule to teach any student is very straightforward. “The decision about what kind of flight is to be conducted should be pretty clear,” he explains. “On a dark night, where there is little

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or no celestial light or an overcast sky, and where your planned route will take you over large tracts of open country with no ground-based illumination, the flight should be conducted under IFR (instrument flight rules) as there is no visual reference to the ground. And if you don’t have an instrument rating, you’re not permitted to fly.” In conversation, Miller recounts the changes that have occurred in his own thinking about night flying over time. “When I started out as a commercial pilot and then an instructor, my focus was very much on completing the flying task and doing the necessary planning and preparation to enable it to happen safely,” he says. “These days I’m inclined to give much more weight to considerations such as aircraft reliability, terrain and weather en route, and the conditions and general environment at my destination. Thinking about these factors, I’m much quicker to ask the question: ‘does this flight really need to happen?’ “I’m very ready now to ask students who want their night rating, about why they want it,” he says. “In the wrong hands, a night rating can be lethal and

so many accidents that have happened at night have occurred through human error. It is so important that, as pilots, we recognise our limits and not go beyond them. I’m always happy to train the students who see the night rating as a safety enhancement, but the ones who may be low-timers and want to use it to blast off into the darkness as they do during the day, are the ones I’m cautious about.” The IFR perspective Ray Cronin has a wealth of experience as a pilot and instructor. As owner and CFI of Kestrel Aviation, his experience spans flight training and testing, charter, heavy lift, aerial fire-fighting and more. “From one end of Australia to the other, there are vast tracts of open country that are without any light sources at night,” he explains. “This is what we term the ‘black hole’ flying environment and is not generally one that pilots should fly into unless they’re IFR current and part of a very disciplined, highly experienced multi-crew operation. “The workload that the pilot faces in this environment, coupled with the AUTUMN.2014

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Helinews Autumn.14  

The AW609 Tiltrotor update Into The Black Chasing Kimberly

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