Airbus H135: 20 Years of Making A Difference

Airbus H135: 20 Years of Making A Difference

Launched at HAI Heli-Expo 1995, the Airbus H135 (then EC135) helicopter's first certification was granted by the JAA on June 16, 1996: here 's the complete story

How can a helicopter become the most globally used aircraft for HEMS missions? You’ve got to be a H135.

The Airbus H135 (former Eurocopter EC135) started in development before the formation of Eurocopter (now Airbus Helicopters.) The helicopters original designation was the BO-108, as part of a project began in 1970 in a development partnership between then Messerschmitt-Bölkow-Blohm (MBB) and Aérospatiale who would both later become a part of Eurocopter, now Airbus Helicopters.

The BO-108 was initially slated as a technology demonstrator that would showcase technological advances such as the first Full Authority Digital Engine Control (FADEC), a hingeless main rotor system, and later in development, the addition of the now iconic to Airbus Products, the first Fenestron tail rotor.

One of the most important factors noted by many, in addition to the new Fenestron design, was the low noise signature of the H135. The H135 was the quietest helicopter in the world, a record it held for over fifteen years. The low noise signature, coupled with the spacious interior that the H135 offered, made the helicopter an immediate success, initially in the helicopter emergency services arena, then later in para-public, commercial and military service. By 2013, the H135 numbered over one thousand aircraft in service around the world.

In the video: 20 years H135 - Benchmark of Today and Tomorrow

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AIRBUS H135: A SUCCESS’ STORY

Continued developments over the past two decades and regular upgrades to the most modern technological standards have helped the H135 become and remain the reference model of its product category. Recent orders show that the H135 is still going strong. In May 2016, Airbus Helicopters was selected as Aircraft Service Provider to deliver 28,000 flight hours per year from a fleet of twenty-nine H135s and three H145s for the UK Military Flight Training System to provide a rotary-wing solution.

A month later, on June 13, 2016, a consortium of Chinese companies purchased one hundred H135s at a value of over $1.1 Billion USD, underlining the growing demand for this helicopter model in Asia. This investment will lead to the establishment of an H135 final assembly line in Qingdao in Shandong province. In addition to growth in the Chinese market, Airbus has continued development in many other markets. In January of 2016, the Ural Works of Civil Aviation (UWCA), a division of state-owned Rostec Corp, announced it had signed an agreement with Airbus Helicopters to build the H135 under license at the firm’s facility in Yekaterinburg, Russia. Russian production of the H135 is anticipated beginning in 2017, following the receipt of Russian type certification.

In the photogallery: H135, A Success Story

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The success of this light-twin aircraft goes back to the 1980s. It was in that decade that a new multi-purpose helicopter was planned to follow-up on the immense success of the Messerschmitt-Bölkow-Blohm BO105, of which more than 1,600 aircraft had been constructed over several decades. From the very beginning, the new helicopter aspired to become a globally unique product. The earliest version featured a glass cockpit for optimized viewing conditions. Which at the time was the most modern avionics available in the 1990’s. The H135 (at the time the EC-135) featuring an autopilot system and dual-engines with the option for customers to choose from two different engine manufacturers: Turbomeca (today Safran Helicopter Engines) providing the Arrius 2B or Pratt & Whitney Canada PW206B engines.

The exterior design of the aircraft also represented its international background: While the airframe and the main rotor system came from the German side of the company, the tail boom including the proven Fenestron® shrouded tail rotor and the electrical system was the result of French engineering.

AIRBUS H135: CHANGING TO REMAIN IN FRONT

The H135 has undergone constant change during its 20 years to meet the changing needs of operators. Its latest version, which entered into service in December of 2014 under the name EC135 T3/P3, offers more than 200 kilograms (440lbs) of additional payload with a greater maximum range in “hot and high” conditions – a distinct advantage over several other rotorcraft in the same category.

Previous versions of the helicopter can also be retrofitted and brought up to current standards through one of Airbus’ many program upgrade options. The most recent development, the Helionix® avionics suite made by the manufacturer that features a 4-axis autopilot will be available from the autumn of 2016. The Helionix® avionics suite made to reduce pilots’ workload and further increase flight safety.

Remarkably, while the H135 gained performance and payload upgrades over the years, the cost of the aircraft remained stable. Today, the H135 has the lowest direct maintenance costs of its class when compared to aircraft from other manufacturers.

Around one-quarter of the worldwide fleet (around 500 aircraft as of 2013 available numbers) are operated in emergency medical service configuration, with other missions for the H135 spanning law enforcement, offshore, utility, transport, and military roles (as the H135M, previously the EC635) in both training and operational purpose.

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