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HANGAR TALK


Van Horn Aviation Conducts Successful First Flight Test of Composite MD 500 Main Rotor Blades


Rotor blade manufactur-


er Van Horn Aviation (VHA) successfully com- pleted a series of ground and flight tests of its com- posite MD 500 main rotor blades during a four-hour test session at the MD Helicopters Inc. (MDHI) facility in Mesa, Arizona aboard a MD 530F® test aircraft. According to VHA presi- dent James R. Van Horn, the April 7, 2011 flight test featured the first commer- cially developed composite main rotor blades flown on the MD 500 series helicop- ter since the aircraft was first developed as the Hughes 369 in 1963. “This flight test marks a significant step forward in increasing the capability of a well-respected and produc- tive helicopter,” said Van Horn. “Our goals in replacing the current metal blades with more efficient composite blades include increasing the helicopter’s internal gross weight and nearly tripling the blade life limit while also decreasing aircraft fuel burn rates, overall aircraft noise and


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direct operating costs.” Greg Ashe, a retired Boeing experimental test pilot who served as the project test pilot on the Hughes 369F model and has more than 800 experi- mental flight test hours in the MD 500 series, per- formed all of the ground and flight tests with assis- tance from VHA and MDHI ground crew. The test ses- sion had three distinct parts: track and balance of the VHA blades, hover tests, and low-speed forward flight. “We are thrilled that the composite blades performed well enough in initial ground and hover tests to take the aircraft into low- speed forward flight on the blade’s first flight test,” said Van Horn, a former U.S. Army instructor pilot who served as flight test engineer


on the VHA MD 500 test session. “Our blades are very stable, even through transitional flight.”


The flight test followed a static pull test performed at VHA’s Tempe, Ariz., facility on March 28, which showed the composite blade could withstand static load of more than 47,000 lbs. The static pull test provided confidence in moving for- ward with the flight test program.


“Another program goal


is to create a blade for the MD 500 series that’s easier to track and balance,” said Van Horn. “We were able to track and balance our blades in a minimum of iterations. The blades responded as expected when trim tab or pitch link changes were made, and they were reso- nance-free through the entire RPM range.” ◆


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