Helicopters

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Working with Helicopters

Helicopter design and development is often referred to as ‘rotorcraft’ technology by aerospace professionals (‘fixed-wing’ is used for aeroplanes). With such a different way of flying compared with conventional aeroplanes, enabling versatility and agility in the air, helicopters have become essential for both civil and military operations. All three UK armed forces use helicopters – the RAF, the Royal Navy and the Army Air Corps.

Therefore, there are many specialist rotorcraft technology experts and engineers who develop the blade technology, engine design, airframes and electronic and electrical systems for application in a wide variety of helicopter products.

Helicopters play an essential role in humanitarian missions, both at home and overseas. Most UK counties have Air Ambulance services which are used for serious accidents and incidents where patients require urgent hospitalisation or paramedic treatment. In humanitarian crisis, such as the Pakistan earthquake in 2005, only helicopters could be used to reach victims as roads had been destroyed and landing strips were few and far between in the mountains. In the same year, the London Air Ambulance service played a vital role which saved many more lives in the London bombings.

Helicopters are also vital to police operations and the coastguard via the RAF Search and Rescue Force.

There is also a huge number of private helicopter firms around the UK who are often contracted to provide some of the above services, in addition to uses such as transporting VIPs and the rich and famous on business and leisure trips.

UK Helicopter Design, Manufacture and Operations

Leonardo Helicopters is the UK’s manufacturer and has a partnership with the UK Government to develop new aircraft. Key products designed and built at their UK site in Yeovil, Somerset include the Super Lynx and EH101. Many other UK aerospace firms also supply some of the high-technology components for rotary-wing aircraft including Rolls-Royce (engines), Smiths Industries (avionics and cockpit displays) and BAE Systems (autopilots and flight control systems) with major contributions to the world helicopter market. QinetiQ also carry out servicing contracts and within the RAF, Royal Navy and Army Air Corps there are both flying and engineering officer and NCO roles available.

In Europe, the EADS company Eurocopter is world leader and other international names include, Bell, Boeing and Sikorksy. Numerous British-based system suppliers have achieved substantial market shares in this market, with the civil and now military Health Usage Monitoring System (HUMS) for helicopters being a UK-led concept and technology which has achieved global success.

The large number of helicopter operators in the UK means there are also many roles available in maintenance, with the same EASA licence system in place as for fixed-wing aircraft as well as Engineering Officer roles in the RAF. The Army Air Corps helicopter fleet is looked after by the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (REME).

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