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Eurocopters in the sunHeli-what?

Helitech '01, 25 - 28 September

Gary Parsons took a peek.

The helicopter industry's bi-annual trade show was held for the first time at Duxford's Imperial War Museum, a move away from the traditional venue of Redhill.

Don't fence me in

Did it work? Well, the jury is still out - it was thought that holding the show at a bigger site would have eased access and encouraged more aircraft to attend, but the reverse was the case in both instances. Parking was on the other side of the A505, so courtesy buses were used to ferry the visitors to the exhibition centre. In the aftermath of 11 September security was tight with bags being searched before admission into hall and a wire mesh encircled the compound, separating the exhibition from the rest Some Farnborough-style totty could be found tooof the IWM site. This restricted movement to the 'live' helicopter park and severely hampered any photography, a distinct disadvantage compared to the previous access enjoyed on the open grass field of Redhill. Plus, just to add to the atmosphere, a delightful aroma of pig slurry drifted across the airfield!

11 September may also have accounted for the complete absence of military hardware from the show, although press releases prior to the fateful day had indicated there wouldn't be much anyway. One of the most obvious absentees was our biggest helicopter manufacturer Westland - no sign could be found of its presence although its partner Agusta was about, albeit low-profile. One would have thought the opportunity for Westland to display its two biggest programmes, Apache and Merlin, would have been grasped. Ironically, two WAH-64D Apaches had been at Duxford just three weeks before for the September Airshow. It seems Helitech has devolved into a Bell-Agusta's AB139 was just a mock-upsupport industry showcase and second-hand buyers market with little manufacturer support, save the high-profile presence of Eurocopter. Nearly every helicopter in the static appeared to be from the French company, plus it had brought its new EC130 for demonstration flights, being the only new type on display at the show.

Exploring the static

Popular in the sparse static park was McDonnell Douglas's Explorer, an example of which was N9201U that Simon Oliphant had recently used to try and break the round-the-world speed record for a helicopter. He had left Shoreham on 4 September and was making good progress until the events of 11 September wrecked the attempt with long delays in the USA. Simon did circumnavigate the globe and dedicated his flight to the victims and families of the World Trade Centre attack.

Happy smiling face of an Italian AgustaAmbu-copters abounded, presenting a sub-theme to the static park if one chose to look for it. Regular visitors to the WAVE at RAF Waddington would have recognised Explorer G-LNAA of the Lincolnshire and Nottinghamshire Air Ambulance Service which was joined by a pair of Eurocopter EC135Ts from other services.

Another prolific type on display was the Gazelle, with many companies offering refurbished ex-naval machines to the private market. With the Navy's disposal of so many HT1s, the market should be buoyant for quite some time.

Trade secrets

Among the many trade stands displaying the latest grommet and widget was BAE Systems, who had a cockpit mock-up of its latest upgrade package for the Mi-24 Hind. A brave move into the third-world support market, the A snip at 350,000...upgrade provides compatibility with current NATO equipment, including new MFDs, communication package, navigation package, multi-sensor turret system, new self-protection suite and portable PC based ground station. Based around a 1553 Armament and mission bus, the system provides greatly increased flexibility and offers much better situational awareness. Also of note to be found in model form was Bell-Agusta's civilian Osprey derivative BA609, which has a take-off weight of 16,800 lbs and will cruise at 275 km/h. That's if anyone's brave enough to get on board, of course.

No such thing as a free lunch...

So what to make of Helitech? Very disappointing if you were wanting to see the latest helicopters put through their paces, but excellent if you wanted to discuss the latest auto-cyclic control over a free lunch. It seems a long while since the heady days of the early nineties when exotic Russian machinery rubbed shoulders with the best from the British military, but we'll have to wait until Farnborough to get a good look at Apache, Merlin, Comanche, NH-90, Rooivalk, Tiger, et al. That's if they turn up, of course...

 

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