First Delivery

As the first NH90 was accepted by the German Army in early November, the industrialization of hundreds of machines on order is already underway.


 Eurocopter / G. Deulin
Two versions: TTH–Tactical Transport Helicopter + NFH–NATO Frigate Helicopter = 25 variants…

There is no need to mention again all the qualities of the NH90: the twelve customer countries, 400 firm orders and an additional 100 on option as of 31 October 2006 speak for themselves.
A helicopter doesn’t become the reference for the 21st century in the multi-role, medium-weight class without good reasons.

After a hard sales campaign, the challenge now lies elsewhere: “We now must turn the commercial success into an industrial one,” summed up Dr. Lutz Bertling, President & CEO of Eurocopter.

Breaking Down Barriers
The first key to this success was the qualification of the helicopter in its TGEA(1) variant, which was a prerequisite for its delivery to the German Army. The multinational aspects of the program (four industrial partners in NHIndustries) could have turned the process into a nightmare; Germany was responsible for the qualification of the fuselage structure, France for the fly-by-wire controls, Italy for the hydraulic system and the Netherlands for the landing gear.

But after several months of work, the aircraft was qualified on 31 March 2006. “The work first began in 2005, when the same management concepts to be formalized nine months later in the VITAL program were first applied,” explained Bertling. “One of the major requirements was to create interdepartmental links between the different actors in the program and to coordinate the involved professional activities.”
A “task force” dedicated to the qualification work was created by breaking down the walls – both figuratively and physically – separating the operations of the different sectors.

“We brought together representatives from the program directorate, production, configuration management, engineering, customer support, technical publications, and several others sectors - all at the same physical platform,” said Bertling. “This team work was a tremendous success and was a pilot project for the concept of multi-skilled work units.” More than 200 people participated in the qualification process.
Although the initial qualification was for the German variant, the work took place in Marignane since the NAHEMA (the NATO agency representing the program partner countries(2)) is located not far from the site.

The subsequent qualification work on the TTH will only concern the specific equipment packages for each variant, as the already-qualified standard vehicle is the same. The next aircraft on schedule are for Greece.

One For All and All For One…
And further down the line, the aircraft production teams also had a few challenges on their hands.
One of the most difficult tasks was to oversee the production of the first series aircraft, while at the same time finalizing the industrial organization. The production work is now underway for approximately two hundred NH90s, and about twenty of the helicopters are already on the flight line for the acceptance tests.

“Having so many different variants forced us to deal with a high level of complexity,” admitted NH90 Program Director Alain Rolland. “Even more so because of the international work sharing and five different assembly lines. Components are delivered back and forth between the different industrial partners, which means that we all must rely heavily on one another.
I would also like to point out that we started to assemble aircraft on the line in Finland even before the first NH90s were delivered. That was truly a tremendous feat.”
But Bertling is clearly confident: the already reached progress in final assembly lines and flight test on several helicopters will allow us to manage the ramp-up of operations in 2007.
The industrial tool is now fully operational and will be capable of boosting its production significantly in the near future. An overriding aspect of the program will always be the large number of customers and different variants. “Our major concern was to complete the aircraft qualification and the accompanying documentation within the lead times.”

Next important date to note: early 2008, when the qualification work will finish on the NFH(3) version.

(1) TTH German Army
(2) The NAHEMA is located in Aix-en-Provence, just a few kilometers from Marignane.
(3) NATO Frigate Helicopter


HOT WEATHER CAMPAIGN

The NH90 underwent a hot weather campaign in Seville last August. The goal of the testing was to extend the certification of the aircraft for external temperatures of up to 50C. The results were very positive: all the required technical data for the certification has now been obtained, and the minor glitches in the air-conditioning system have been remedied. What’s more, the tests made it possible to identify the modifications that must be made to meet the requirements of the contract signed with the Sultanate of Oman: an operating envelope with external temperatures of 55C. The modification project is currently being finalized, and the changes will be implemented on the first NH90 to be sent to Oman, prior to the hot weather campaign scheduled for summer 2007 in the country.


 Alain Struzik