3 New Enterprise Helicopters With Luxe Facilities That Rival Personal Jets
At some point between the original Magnum, P.I. and its current reboot, helicopter travel went from loud and ruggedly dangerous to disarmingly smooth, quiet, and sophisticated—at least at the highest end of the market. Years of design and engineering improvements have imbued modern business choppers with levels of safety, luxury, and speed that make them increasingly viable alternatives to fixed-wing aircraft. And when Covid hit, the corporate whirlybird became even more appealing.
“On the heels of the pandemic, customers found helicopters to be the most private way to travel, skipping airport terminals or FBOs altogether,” says a spokesperson for Bell Helicopters. The numbers bear this out: While a total of 27 corporate helicopters across manufacturers were delivered to U.S. customers in 2020, that number had nearly doubled to 50 just two years later.
Such rotorcraft still have inherent limitations compared to turboprops or light jets, especially for trips longer than a couple hundred miles. But they also boast a particular skill set that makes them untouchable in terms of access—there’s simply no other way to escape a rooftop in Lower Manhattan and drop into the Hamptons or ferry from a superyacht to a Bermudan polo field. Recent advances in cabin comfort, vibration abatement, noise reduction, and fuel efficiency have further enhanced the business copter’s capabilities and allure. And then there’s the range of new offerings.
Airbus’s ACH160 (seen at the top of post), which will be delivered to its first stateside owner this year, epitomizes the strides made in terms of refinement. The premium version of the ACH160 offers an upmarket take on the platform, with a revised cabin that can be configured for up to 10 passengers, rivaling a private jet in terms of elegance. Airbus’s top model also touts significant reductions in noise and vibration levels, along with larger windows and a more spacious, lavish interior by London-based Pegasus Design.
The model leverages 68 new patents, including a Helionix 3 avionics suite that offers automated takeoff and collision-avoidance technology. The ACH160 can cruise at 178 mph for a range of 529 miles and remain aloft for up to four and a half hours, while an innovative safety feature, engaged by double-tapping a button on the control stick, enables easy automatic recovery of the aircraft during an unplanned descent.
Meanwhile, Bell’s long-awaited flagship 525 Relentless, moving through the FAA certification process, boasts a clean-sheet design informed by an international customer-advisory panel. It will be the first certified commercial helicopter with fly-by-wire architecture, a system that claims to reduce pilot workload, increase situational awareness, and allow full autopilot functionality. Relentless will be the largest commercial model in the Bell family, with capacity for 16 passengers and two pilots, and will reportedly be able to cruise at 184 mph for a range of 667 miles, with twin GE turboshaft engines providing redundancy. It can also be outfitted with different seating configurations and custom upholstery options by Mecaer Aviation Group.
But not all of the new craft require hauling A-listers and their entire entourage. The upcoming AW09 from Leonardo was developed by the Kopter Group, which the Italian company acquired in 2020. The all-new, single-engine platform aims to combine the performance and wide interior of a costlier twin-engine configuration by featuring a modular architecture with composite components that enable a spacious, high-ceiling layout. Using a single Safran Arriel 2K turboshaft engine producing just over 1,000 hp, the copter can transport up to eight passengers at a cruising speed of 161 mph for 497 miles and stay airborne for five hours, all with a low-vibration main rotor and a shrouded tail rotor for quieter operation.
The corporate helicopter has always afforded unparalleled convenience and accessibility for shorter-range air travel, but the newest players are remarkably long on comfort, safety, and efficiency—consider them choppers with decidedly more executive chops.
Source: Robb Report