An astonishing new building was recently unveiled at the Airbus Helicopters' Marignane plant in southern France. Built in under a year, this giant cylinder known as DHC0 – Dynamic Helicopter Zero – now makes it possible to perform dynamic integration testing for the H160 and future helicopters in the Airbus Helicopters range.
Gary Clark, head of vehicle test and integration at Airbus Helicopters, takes us behind the scenes of this unique testbed.
How is DHC0 unlike any other facility that exists today?
Gary Clark: We needed nearly 300 tons of steel and 3,000 cubic meters of concrete to build this innovative structure in the heart of our Marignane site. It’s the only facility of its kind in the world. First of all, it was built in the middle of a major production site so that we could have all the participants on hand to quickly take action when necessary. The structure itself is also extremely innovative. The enclosure around the building is fully shielded to absorb any impact. It’s lined with a thick layer of insulation and has a unique ‘double crown’ architecture to avoid noise pollution for the neighboring teams. The retractable roof means that our teams can work in all types of weather when we’re not conducting tests. It also has a state-of-the-art control room above the test floor so we can run the tests in complete safety.
What happens within this test center’s walls?
GC: Here we perform integration testing on the dynamic systems: the main and tail rotors, engine, main gear box (MGB), tail gear box (TGB), transmission and flight control system are all assembled on a partial version of the actual helicopter prototype. The bench can also be used to perform endurance testing on dynamic assemblies as required by certification authorities.
What are the benefits of testing here?
GC: Having these ground tests mean we can really speed up the maturity process for new helicopters in the range during their development phase—and in particular before the first flight of prototype no. 1. The tests also help to cut costs stemming from unforeseen problems, which in the past could be detected only during test flights. As a result, the helicopters can be introduced to the market much more quickly. For example, the H160, a precursor to the new testbed, performed its first “bench flights” in March 2015.
Who are the people who made all this happen?
GC: The DHC0 offered our teams an opportunity that we simply could not afford to miss. All the teams involved in the project did their utmost to make sure that this innovative new tool would be available on time for the H160, enabling it to attain an unsurpassed level of maturity prior to its first flight. The turnaround time for the entire project was less than a year, from the initial presentation of the project to the financial committee at the end of 2013 to final delivery at the end of 2014. It was a record for us, considering the complexity of the building.
Number of tests per month performed at DHC0:
- 20 hours per month in integration/troubleshooting mode
- 100 hours per month in endurance testing mode
- Engine controls
- Thermal evaluation
- Endurance of dynamic assemblies
- Structural loads & flight controls