A guide to the 4 major helicopter manufacturers
A quick look at the four major Helicopter manufacturers that Helicopter Investor cover.
Headquarters: Marseille Provence Airport
Head of company: Guillaume Faury
Although it was known as Eurocopter up until 2014, Airbus Helicopters has a long and various history that can be traced right the way back to Blériot in France, and Messerschmitt in Germany. It wasn’t until 1992 when the helicopter divisions of Aérospatiale and Daimler-Benz Aerospace AG (DASA) merged that Eurocopter was formed.
Airbus Helicopters has four main manufacturing sites in Europe, with a further 30+ subsidiary plants worldwide. The main manufacturing plat is in the south of France at Marseilles Marignane Airport, although some helicopters are built at Donauwörth in Germany.
Following on from the name change to Airbus Helicopters in 2014, the company announced at the 2015 Heli Expo in Orlando that it would be changing the names of its current in production helicopters, removing the EC prefix that was a throwback to the Eurocopter days.
Current in production civil and military helicopters range from light helicopters, right the way through to heavy heli’s. One of the most popular helicopters in the range is the Dauphin (Originally the AS365, now the H155) which is a medium helicopter that’s sold over 1000 units.
The Dauphin has been so successful that it’s successor has been four years in development, and has so far cost an estimated €1 billion ($1.12 billion). Finally unveiled at the 2015 HAI event in Orlando, the H160 is planned to be introduced in two stages, with the first due to be introduced in 2017, and a more advanced version following three years later.
Headquarters: Rome, Italy
Head of company: Daniele Romiti
Formed in July 2000 when Agusta and Westland’s parent companies merged their helicopter divisions, AgustaWestland is now a wholly owned subsidiary of Finmeccanica, with official headquarters in Rome, Italy.
Both companies began helicopter production during the 1950s, with Westland Helicopters focusing mainly on the military market from its base in Yeovil in the South of the UK. Although the company was most well known for producing the Sea King helicopters that are still in service today with the UKs coast guard and search & rescue teams, this was actually a licensed built version of the Sikorsky S-61.
The company’s military connections still exist to this day, with the AgustaWestland saying that they are the second biggest manufacturer of military helicopters. Aircraft in the military line-up include the AW101 Merlin, and the AW159 Wildcat.
One of the most exciting upcoming helicopters is the AgustaWestland AW609 tiltrotor. Although tiltrotor technology has been in use by the military for some years, we’ve yet to see it used in a civil capacity. By having the rotor-blades change their position during different flight stages, a tiltrotor can transform from a traditional helicopter style profile that gives the helicopter vertical lift, to a turboprop style aircraft, with forward facing engines. This gives the AW609 an advantage of being able to land vertically, whilst still keeping the speed of a traditional turboprop aircraft.
Headquarters: Fort Worth, Texas
Head of company: John Garrison
Bell’s history can be traced back as far as 1935 when Bell Aircraft was formed in New York. At that time the company specialised in building fighter aircraft, with the company holding the distinction of building the first US built fighter jet. (P-59 Airacomet)
As well as holding the honour of building the first US build fighter jet, the company also has the distinction of building the first helicopter to be rated by a civil aviation authority. The Bell 47 was the second helicopter that Bell built, and following its introduction during the middle of the 1940s went on to see over 5,600 aircraft deliveries.
During 1959 the company’s biggest helicopter was introduced into service. The UH-1 Huey saw a production run of around 16,000 units, with the aircraft really making its name during the Vietnam war. A year later, in 1960, Textron purchased the company. At that time Bell was split into three divisions, although only the helicopter division was still manufacturing complete aircraft.
The company still produces both civil and military helicopters, although most recent new helicopters have been almost exclusively civilian.
Headquarters: Stamford, Connecticut
Head of company: Robert Leduc
Founded 1925 by Ukrainian born aircraft engineer Igor Sikorsky, the company began life by designing and building traditional multi-engine airplanes and seaplanes from its base in New York. Four years years later the company joined United Technologies Corporation and moved its operations to its current Stamford, Connecticut home.
Following a merger with Vought Aircraft in the 1928 Igor Sikorsky turned his attentions towards helicopters. The first aircraft, the VS-300, served as a test platform for the first Sikorsky production build helicopter. The Sikorsky R-4 flew for the first time in 1942, and went on to deliver 131 units.
Today, Sikosky’s main business is building medium to heavy lift Helicopters that are well known for their rugged performance. It is most known for two medium helicopters, with the S-76 being a commercial helicopter used in many coast guards and air force’s around the world, and the S-96 used mainly by oil and gas companies transporting workers between locations.
Sikorsky may not be a part of UTC for too much longer though. Early in 2015 UTC stated that they had performed a strategic review of the companies in its portfolio and found that Sikorsky weren’t performing alongside its expectations. This lead to much speculation about who the potential suitors could be.