'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 of
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 support
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.
Ambu-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.
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 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...