- May 10, 2012
Following on from a strong 2011, MD Helicopters is working on developments in several areas as it plans to continue – and strengthen – its recovery from the effects of the 2008 recession. In an exclusive interview, Benjamin Weiser, MD’s senior vice president, told Vertical about the importance of military contracts, the ongoing development of the MD 540, and big news for the MD 902– as well as a possible push to “reintroduce” Notar to the market.
As things stand, the company is on pace to double the number of deliveries it completed in 2011, with 2013 promising further estimated growth of 50 percent. Much of this stability and growth stemmed from the awarding of a four-year United States Army contract in March 2011 to supply up to 54 rotary wing primary training aircraft – the first six (MD 530Fs) of which were delivered last year. “My number one customer is the military,” said Weiser. “I provide every emphasis I can with regards to support, availability and parts, to make sure that I have a happy military customer, because they’re a big chunk of my business at this point in time.”
Indeed, the company only began development on the MD540F – its first new rotorcraft for 15 years – with a view to entering it into the upcoming U.S. Army armed aerial scout (AAS) competition (the Army is seeking a possible replacement for its aging Bell OH-58D Kiowa Warrior fleet — see p.36, Vertical 911, ALEA 2012). The 540F was unveiled at the Army Aviation Association of America Professional Forum and Exhibition in Nashville, Tenn., back in April. “We’re going to be doing our voluntary flight demonstration [for the U.S. Army] this September,” said Weiser. “We’re test flying the 540 almost daily, putting a lot of hours on it, and gradually increasing the max gross takeoff weight in order to be able to demonstrate performance at 6K/95 [the ability to hover out of ground effect at an altitude of 6,000 feet mean sea level and a temperature of 95 degrees – understood to be required for AAS candidates].”
However, while it may have been created with the military in mind, MD has also decided to pursue commercial certification of the 540F. “There will be 540s available for the commercial market – there’s been interest already, in fact,” said Weiser. “We’re opening up a project with the FAA [Federal Aviation Administration] but that’s going to take however long it takes.”
Development work isn’t just limited to new aircraft, though – the 902 is also undergoing some changes that could deliver a major boost in performance. The manufacturer hopes that a “restructuring” of the aircraft’s fuel cell is going to increase fuel capacity enough to extend endurance by about an hour, and range by more than 100 miles to about 430 to 450 miles. MD is also increasing the 902’s certified gross maximum takeoff weight from 6,500 to 6,770 pounds – a process Weiser anticipates being complete by October 2012. A further change will see a new digital glass cockpit installed in the aircraft – but the manufacturer and model are yet to be announced. “We’re investing a lot of money on the 902 product line,” said Weiser. “That production line is up and running and we see potential for significant 902 sales in South America and Asia.”
One segment of MD’s business that hasn’t quite blossomed the way the manufacturer might have hoped is Notar – an anti-torque system that replaces the use of a tail rotor. “I still don’t understand how Notar hasn’t taken off more than it has,” said Weiser. “There is just no comparison when you compare it to a tail rotor helicopter. Safety: Statistics say that 20 to 22 percent of all helicopter related accidents are tail rotor related. So you take away the tail rotor and a fifth of all potential accidents are gone. You talk about failure rates for a helicopter: You have a tail rotor, that’s just one more dynamic component with its own gear box, which can fail. You talk about noise: Again, the tail rotor just adds noise.
“People say it feels different when flying….Yes, it flies a little different to a [helicopter with a] tail rotor, but I don’t accept that argument. If you’re a 500E pilot and you’re transferred to [a Eurocopter] AS350 B3, that’d be a different feeling; you’d have to learn how to fly it, it’d be a different response. It’s the same type of thing you just have to get used to if you go from a tail rotor helicopter to a non-tail rotor helicopter.”
Weiser said one of his goals over the next few months was to convince people to take another look at the technology – to “reintroduce” it to the aviation industry. “Because maybe we didn’t get the message out as well as we should have in the past,” he admitted.
Overall, though, it’s a positive time for the rejuvenated manufacturer, with some exciting developments on the horizon.
“The best way to see how a company is doing is you look at the parking lot – and it’s getting harder and harder to get a good spot near the entrance,” said Weiser. “You can hardly maneuver a new helicopter in the completions center in the production line; we’re ramping up from two to three a month in Monterey [MD’s production facility in Mexico]. So, looking forward, we’re developing a backlog, which is something you always want to have. We’re definitely on an upward trend.”http://www.mdhelicopters.com/v2/news.php
My question is what is next for MD? They have been a relative in the SOC family for sometime.