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Thu, Feb 10, 2005

HeliExpo '05: Eurocopter EC175 -- One Big Helicopter

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Is anything safe from Eurocopter? Not if they can help it. Makers of helicopter weightlifting champions might have been looking on smugly as the European maker chased smaller fry to the fringes of the marketplace, but they're now in the sights of the EADS subsidiary, and that has to be a heck of a spot to be on.

The EC175 is designed to have a gross weight of about 10,000 kilograms. That will place it, in its own line, between the EC155 and the elderly Super Puma. Eurocopter will co-develop the craft with an as-yet-unnamed Chinese firm.

How far along is the EC175? We can't be sure, but we saw what we believe was a prototype main transmission gearbox for the future king of the Eurocopter line. In discussions before the EC175 was made public, Zahnradfabrik Friedrichshafen (ZF) officials described this box (photo) as a main transmission for a helicopter in the 10,000 kilogram class. Did it make sense for a power-transmission company like ZF to be so deep in applied engineering just for the sake of experiment? But when pushed, the transmission guys clammed up.

After Eurocopter president Fabrice Bregier revealed the EC175 program, we went back to talk to ZF again. They did say that the box "might resemble" something they would do for "a project like" the EC175, but they also pointed out that this high-tech experimental box includes some items that might not make it into a final version, especially the internal swashplate, the 10:1 ratio and the dual ring gears (which are only there because of manufacturing limitations).

Eurocopter has succeeded thanks to immense resources that let them react quickly to customer needs, and, most of all, thanks to good products. So if they follow through with the EC175 it will be a competitor to reckon with.

FMI: www.eurocopter.com

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