All photos me too, copyrighted
While I’d assumed we’d checked the German Bundespolizei off the list of potential future visitors after their last hop over, I was more than pleasantly surprised to the other day to stumble across another of their machines at the field – a hot find coming right on the heels of the US helicopter fleet that had stationed with us for a few days (welcome to Lučko International 😀 ). Sporting the service’s classy and elegant navy blue scheme, the machine in question is a nowadays rather rare EC-155B-1 medium-lift helicopter, a type completely alien to Croatia – and only the second one I’d ever seen in person…
Seemingly a relatively new type at first glance – having been introduced in 1997 – the EC-155 had actually started out in life as the twin-engine Aérospatiale SA.365/AS.365 Dauphin 2* of 1975, itself evolved from the earlier (and stubbier) SA.360/AS.360 Dauphin* single-engine light utility model.
* like many French helicopter designs, both of these machines had gone through several designation changes throughout their lifetimes, a reflection on their constantly changing manufacturers. A holdover from the 60s, the SA prefix stands for the initials of Sud Aviation – the first large scale helicopter manufacturer in France – which had in 1970 merged with Nord Aviation (formerly SNCAN) to form what we know today as Aérospatiale. Taking its time, the new company had introduced the “proper” AS prefix only in 1990, just two years before the company would transform into Eurocopter. The new prefix had however survived the change, and would remain in use even today on older models that had remained in production
In essence occupying a niche below the heavier Puma transport, the EC-155 is not however a direct copy of the Dauphin, which is still in production as the Eurocopter AS.365N3+. Using (most of) the Dauphin as a base, the 155 had introduced a wider and more commodious fuselage, new digital avionics with many bells and whistles – and, most importantly, a completely new composite main rotor and more powerful engines for significantly improved performance in hot-and-high conditions (which also give a slight increase in maximum take off weight).
A design element that has however survived all designation and equipment changes is the type’s eye-catching Fenestron rotor, a trademark feature of many French light and medium helicopters. Literally translated as “small window”, this concept – pioneered by Sud Aviation – replaces the traditional tail rotor’s few large blades with up to 18 smaller ones, shrouded within the tail assembly itself. While this solution does add a fair bit of weight due to the structural reinforcements needed – and tends to shift the CG backwards, decreasing stability – it does allow the individual blades to be lighter and more durable, as well as be able to withstand significantly higher forces and stress. Among other benefits, this includes sharper, quicker and more controlled yawing, which adds quite a bit to the helicopter’s maneuverability.
A competent machine all-round, D-HLTL was in town on a demonstration visit, flying mostly at night to show off its advanced on-board imaging equipment :). Rumor on the apron is that the Croatian Police is likely to buy a few examples – supported by the EU and it accession funds – to supplement is aging (and comparatively under-equipped) Bell fleet… so we may yet see more of them quite soon :).
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