- Associated Press - Monday, March 28, 2016

ELKHART, Ind. (AP) - The lake-effect snow and nasty winter weather common in Michiana are helping an international helicopter manufacturer test a new system.

Since December, a team from AgustaWestland, an Italian helicopter maker, has had a crew of around a dozen people at the Elkhart Municipal Airport to test a new ice-protection system for the company’s AW189 model.

Test pilot Chris Hyder, whose family has been in the South Bend region for more than 25 years, suggested to the company that the atmospheric conditions in the area would be perfect for testing the system.

“You get that pattern of air coming right over the lake. It’s the same stuff that causes the lake-effect snow. It just loads the air up with water and at a very cold temperature you’re ready to ice and it’s just perfect,” Hyder explained.

Especially in winter weather, ice forming on the outside of an aircraft can be catastrophic. The system that the team is working on for the AW189 uses electricity to evenly heat the aircraft’s rotors and body to melt and shed the ice as it forms, Hyder said.

“The idea is that you can fly in icing conditions, where the ice forms on the aircraft, and you’re able to shed the ice. You’re able to keep the power margins where they’re supposed to be and survive very well in the icing conditions,” he said.

The helicopter the team is using is the first flying prototype of the AW189. The aircraft is loaded with computers and testing equipment, as well as cameras and items that would be on customer models, such as different windows and hoists.

According to Hyder, the certification for the helicopter, which is typically used in search and rescue operations and to transport workers to ocean oil rigs, requires that the team demonstrate use of the aircraft within certain thresholds.

Using complex devices that measure water droplet size and liquid water content, the team must demonstrate to the Federal Aircraft Administration that the system can perform in a variety of conditions, Hyder said.

“What we do is we have a whole matrix made up of different temperatures, different water contents, different sizes of the droplets, and we have to demonstrate that it’s a robust system in the whole different areas of the matrix and that there’s margin,” he said.

That means that the team purposely flies into conditions most pilots avoid or would want to stay grounded through.

“We’re looking to go where we’re not supposed to go or where most people don’t go,” he said.

As the weather has warmed up and icing conditions have become less frequent, the team has been testing other things, such as taking advantage of the strong winds last week to test takeoff and landing scenarios, he said.

For these tests, the team purposely disables one of the engines and practices takeoffs and landings, Hyder explained.

“The current envelope, I believe, is 20 knots and after today it’s going to be greater than 30 knots because we demonstrated that you can do it with more margin, control margin, power margin, all those things,” he said.

The tests have doubled as a homecoming of sorts for Hyder, who has been living in Italy for several years but gets to spend every night with his father in South Bend throughout the crew’s stay in Elkhart County. The team plans to stay here through mid-April.

“I spend every night with my dad, which is kind of cool,” Hyder said. “It’s been a fantastic opportunity to spend a lot of time with him.”

The test has been a major success for AgustaWestland, Hyder said, and he expects the team to return in the future with other aircraft.

“It has been an incredibly successful trip and if I get a vote we’ll be back with a machine called the 169 either next year or the year after,” he said.




Information from: The Elkhart Truth, https://www.elkharttruth.com

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