A continued focus on innovation coupled with improvements in engineering has resulted in the emergence of sophisticated new technologies within the rotorcraft industry, helping to set new standards for performance, productivity and safety. The Flight Helicopter Forecast (FHF) to 2027, prepared by Flight Ascend Consultancy and published by FlightGlobal, discusses how tiltrotor technology could impact the market in the next two decades, offering extended range capabilities and higher speeds for operators.
Described as a ‘hybrid aircraft/helicopter’, the tiltrotor combines the vertical lift capabilities of a helicopter with the speed and range of a conventional fixed-wing aircraft, resulting in significant implications and opportunities.
What does this mean for the industry?
With higher speeds, increasing from 150-160kt to over 250kt, a greater range and a pressurised cabin, increasing the maximum altitude to 25,000ft, there are several market opportunities for the tiltrotor. For example, its capabilities will no doubt be of interest to the business/VIP market, as an alternative to a small turboprop or jet, while the tiltrotor’s range will help operators in the offshore sector as they look to extend exploration.
In civil operations, Search and Rescue (SAR) missions will benefit from its capability to rescue two people at a range of 500nm, while hovering for up to 30 mins. Speed and range are identified as key elements in SAR missions, while also critical in the helicopter-based Emergency Medical Service (EMS) markets.
It is important to note that the Flight Helicopter Forecast does reveal that the potential impact the tiltrotor will have on the industry may not be seen in the 10 years being covered by the report. While testing is still underway to prove its economic viability in operation, a quick look at the investment in tiltrotor technology paints an optimistic picture for its uptake in the industry outside of military operations.
Developments in tiltrotor technologies
Just a quick look at tiltrotor developments across the rotorcraft industry reveals the scope of the long-term investment and commitment from the industry’s leading manufacturers. While Leonardo Helicopters has pushed back the certification and service entry of its AgustaWestland AW609 tiltrotor to late 2019, with deliveries expected immediately after, it has already reported interest from United Arab Emirates for SAR operations; while work continues with the Bristow Group and Era Group to define the requirements for offshore transportation and EMS variants. Once certified and ready for delivery it is expected to be configured for a wide array of applications from homeland security / para-public, emergency medical services (EMS) and offshore oil and gas transport to government and corporate passenger transport.
With helicopter manufacturers already investing heavily in new prototype models, and new hybrid solutions under study, it is likely that that both new generation helicopters and tiltrotors will make an impact on the next decade of rotorcraft innovation. With a growing focus on innovation and driving operational capabilities, this year’s Helitech International 2018 will explore the challenges and opportunities facing the industry, setting the agenda and debating the trends for 2019 and beyond.