Three operators in Australia and New Zealand installed VHA 206B composite main rotor blades within three weeks of each other in late February/early March 2017. VHA President Dean Rosenlof traveled to Australia to meet with operators and assist with the first installations of VHA 206B main rotor blades on the continent. About four weeks after the installations, we checked in with the operators to see how the blades are flying.
First Installation and Flight – AusJet
Jason Ellis, Sales and Customer Service Manager for Heliwest Services, a Bell Customer Service Facility (CSF) reported that his customer, Australasian Jet (AusJet) in Melbourne, was “very happy with the blades and with the on-site service provided by Heliwest and VHA.” Both Ellis and Rosenlof were on site during the AusJet installation at Essendon Airport and assisted with installation, tracking, ground tests, and first flights. While Rosenlof traveled to Brisbane for a second installation, Ellis remained in Melbourne to ensure no further work needed to be done.
“The pilots’ initial feedback was that flying the machine is more responsive with reduced pilot inputs,” said Ellis. “I’m confident that the VHA main rotor blades will be as well received in the market as the highly successful Van Horn tail rotor blades.”
Second Australian Installation – I Source Logistics
In Brisbane, Rosenlof met with the staff of Sikorsky Helitech, a Bell CSF, to provide installation, maintenance and overhaul information for VHA blades. Helitech also hosted a meeting between Rosenlof and about six Australian 206 operators, including Steve Spinaze, CEO of I Source Logistics in Thursday Island, Queensland. Spinaze was the second operator to install the VHA 206B main rotor blades in Australia, although the timing was such that Rosenlof had to leave before installation was completed. After some initial tracking issues, which Rosenlof and other VHA personnel helped troubleshoot from the U.S., Spinaze gave the new VHA blades a positive pilot report.
“Finally flew home with the new wings,” Spinaze wrote on the VHA Facebook page. “Definitely faster, comes off the ground more eagerly, lower TQ for a given weight. Bring on the 5000 hour overhauls.” (Currently the 206B main blades require 2800-hour overhauls, but VHA is working with the FAA to increase the TBO intervals to 5000 hours by the end of 2017).
New Zealand Tour Operator Volcanicair
Volcanicair, a tour operator based in Rotorua, New Zealand, installed VHA composite main and tail rotor blades on their JetRanger in early March. According to Tim Barrow, Volanicair Chief Pilot and Director, the composite blades are “certainly raising a bit of interest.”
“The tail rotor authority is excellent by comparison and mains run smooth as well,” wrote Barrow in an email to Rosenlof. “There may be a very slight speed advantage but that’s hard to judge until we have been operating it for a while. We also think it’s quiet by comparison with less noticeable blade slap, which is great.”
Total Commitment to Operators
The Oceania operators bring total sets of VHA 206B main blades to more than a dozen flying around the world. About two dozen more have been sold but have either not been installed or we haven’t heard from the operators (which may be a good thing!). We appreciate these early adopters and are actively seeking feedback to improve current and future blades. For example, operator feedback caused us to redesign our main blade crates, create a custom trim tab tool, rewrite tracking procedures, and design a new rotor tie-down strap (available in mid-2017).
“We are proud to support 206 helicopter operators around the world,” said Rosenlof. “We recognize that many Australian operators fly in challenging environments and situations, and we’re looking to them to help us make our product even better as we roll their feedback into the 206L LongRanger main blade program. We’re excited about bringing more products to the market that will help 206 operators in Australia, New Zealand, and around the world lower costs and increase performance.”