Eurocopter’s 16-seat medium-lift EC175 made its ‘official’ first flight on December 17 from Eurocopter’s Marignane, France, facility. However, the December 17 flight was in fact the type’s sixth, with the actual first flight occurring nearly two weeks earlier on December 4.
During the December 17 flight EC175 ‘prototype 1’ F-WWPB performed as part of a rehearsed handling display of Eurocopter’s civil helicopter line in front of Eurocopter and partner AVIC (China’s Aeronautics Industries Group Corporation) officials, launch customers and media.
“The first few flights have been unusual, normally when you fly a new aircraft for the first time, you are very nervous, but with the EC175 you feel really comfortable and safe. The aircraft is very stable and there is very little vibration,” said Alain Di Bianca, Eurocopter’s experimental test pilot who has been at the controls for each flight.
The seven tonne class EC175 was launched in early December 2005 to fill the gap between Eurocopter’s AS365 Dauphin and AS332/EC225 Super Puma, and is aimed at the oil and gas industry for offshore platform transfer work. Development work is split equally between Eurocopter and AVIC, with Eurocopter to manufacture it as the EC175 at Marignane, and AVIC to build it as the Z15. It is the first new design from Eurocopter since the EC120 Colibri flew in 1995.
The European version is powered by twin Pratt & Whitney PT6C-67E engines with dual-channel FADEC. However AVIC has indicated plans to re-evaluate powerplant options for the Z15, with AVIC reportedly in discussions with Turbomeca about the launch of a new engine family as an alternative to the P&WC PT6C.
Eurocopter hopes to sell 800 EC175s over 20 years, with 114 letters of intent held from 14 customers thus far. European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) certification is expected during 2011, with first deliveries to launch customer Bristow scheduled for 2012.
Other operators who have signed LOIs include include Danish operator DanCopter, Russia’s UTAir, France’s HeliUnion and Belgium-based NHV.
EC175 ‘prototype 2’ has been retained by AVIC while ‘prototype 3’ is due to fly by the end of 2011.
Watch the EC175’s first flight video here.