New Zealand company Composite Helicopters is fielding calls from buyers and distributors around the world after unveiling a revolutionary chopper that is light, durable and can be built in record time.
The fuselage, main rotor blades and tail rotor blades in Composite Helicopter’s design are made entirely of carbon fibre composites. The helicopter uses the same carbon fibre technology that is found in America’s Cup racing boats, high end sports equipment and new aircraft such as Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner.
The five-to-six seat helicopter is sold in kitset form and is relatively quick and easy to put together.
Composite Helicopter’s innovation was showcased last month at Oshkosh in Wisconsin, the world’s biggest aviation expo, where New Zealand had the largest country pavilion and, says NZTE’s aviation manager Peter Smyth, was praised for having the most innovation on display.
Many companies in the New Zealand delegation are following strong leads from the show, including Composite Helicopters. Director Peter Maloney says the response to his company’s product exceeded expectations.
Before the show, pre-publicity in New Zealand led to seven orders and the company returned with 14 more and potential for another 48 through dealership enquiries, according to Maloney. And snce getting back to New Zealand it has had enquiries from potential dealers in Australia, Canada, the United States, Argentina, Brazil and South America.
There was also keen interest shown by established helicopter manufacturers such as Bell and Sikorsky and approaches from two Chinese companies wanting to buy the Kiwi company or form a joint venture.
Maloney says of the six distributors who made approaches during the show, none were deterred when he suggested they would have to buy five helicopters to become an agent.
With each helicopter selling at around $530,000, Composite Helicopters already has potential sales worth more than $50 million. It currently has two prototypes, both of which were built just north of Auckland.
Maloney says one of the best things about attending Oshkosh was gaining world-wide exposure to both private and professional owners and operators.
“It gave people the opportunity to scrutinise our product and compare it to the dominant helicopters of the world. We exposed ourselves to some of the most experienced pilots, engineers and advanced helicopter designers in the business and got an excellent response.”
The idea for the helicopter came to Maloney, a licensed engineer, through thousands of hours flying helicopters in a variety of environments. He took his lead from nature, basing the shape of the helicopter on the Great White Shark.
Once the raw design was complete, he formed a team of specialists in areas ranging from composites and structures to transmissions and finite analysis. His wife Leanne is a key member of the production team, which started building the first prototype two-and-a-half years ago on the Maloney’s property.
Attractions of Composite Helicopter’s design are the manufacturing speed and the light airframe, which allows “over-engineering” drive trains to increase the time between overhauls to more than double that of other helicopters while still providing good payload capability. Other major benefits are the superior strength of carbon fibre components and none of the corrosion problems that plague conventional helicopters.
Once commercialised, the helicopter will contribute to the New Zealand aviation sector’s drive to add $15 billion to the economy each year, Smyth says.
“What Composite Helicopters has produced is globally significant and an achievement that a lot of people would have dismissed as not possible in New Zealand. The speed with which prototypes have been developed and their quality is impressive.
“It’s exciting to see this happen here – it’s at the upper end of what I thought was possible for us to produce.”
Maloney’s vision is to keep manufacturing the helicopters in New Zealand – while the engine and a few selected components are imported, most of the helicopter is Kiwi made.
“Establishing production in New Zealand will create employment, new careers and apprenticeships in a whole range of disciplines related to helicopter manufacturing.”
And he has big plans for the helicopter long term. “The design could be easily adapted to create alternate airframes so the company has solid options for growth.
Composite Helicopters has lodged a large number of international patent applications covering the fuselage, including patents on the main rotor and fin attachments.
This story originally appeared on NZTE