Composite Rotor Blades Are Taking Off

by Matthew Beres, Airborne Retrofit & Modernization Analyst, Forecast International.

Van Horn Aviation recently celebrated the first installation and flight of VHA composite main rotor blades on its launch customer, Hummingbird Helicopter’s 206B. According to Van Horn Aviation, Bob Hoag, owner of Hummingbird Helicopters, is a current customer of Van Horn’s composite tail rotor blades, and was eager to be the launch customer for the main blade.

Composite materials have been developed and refined over the years for use on fixed wing aircraft and helicopters. Helicopter rotor blades perhaps benefit most from composite materials due to increases in fatigue resistance and higher strength-to-density ratios.

Among other major worldwide composite rotor blade modernization retrofit efforts is the US Army’s AH-64E Apache Reman program, which includes installation of composite main rotor blades and composite stabilators. The composite main rotor blade is 6 inches longer than the previous blade, with a new tip design to improve aerodynamic performance.

As part of the Chinook Block II upgrade, new composite rotor blades will add 2,000 additional pounds of lift capacity. The program has already made wind tunnel testing progress and was slated for flight testing in summer 2015.

Carson Helicopters provides the composite rotor blades used in Sikorsky’s S-61T conversion program, and markets the FireKing firefighting conversion. Carson is continuing with structural testing and manufacturing process improvements until FAA certification is complete.

Mil’s Mi-35M conversion package offers composite rotor blades, as does Paramount on its Superhind Mk IV and MkII upgrades.

In March 2013, Bell Helicopter signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Van Horn Aviation to produce the tail rotor blades for 412 and 212 helicopters, which operators may purchase and install on their own. Van Horn Aviation currently offers UH-1 Huey composite tail rotors, along with its other products, to include the new 206B composite main rotor blade.

“Our newly certificated 206B main rotor blade is the culmination of more than five years of design, prototyping, and testing, including extensive flight and fatigue testing,” said VHA CEO James Van Horn, who designed the blades and flew as copilot/flight test engineer during most of the certification flight testing. “Our goal was to produce composite main rotor blades that would reduce operator cost and increase durability. During flight testing, we saw and felt some improvements in responsiveness with the composite blades compared to the metal blades. We believe the JetRanger operators will be pleased with our composite blades.”James Van Horn

In February 2016, Van Horn Aviation received Supplemental Type Certification from the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for 206B composite main rotor blades. The blades were approved for 18,000 hours of service life, more than triple that of OEM metal blades. The blades consist of carbon-fiber skin and spars, a laminar-flow airfoil, and a tapered tip. Also, there is a combination of stainless steel and nickel abrasion strips across the entire length of the blade for erosion and lighting strike protection.

“We put the main blade, root, inboard and outboard sections through months of fatigue testing,” said VHA President Dean Rosenlof. “Composites are inherently durable and resist fatigue throughout normal flight parameters, so we tested the blades with simulated hail damage, induced manufacturing defects, and various extreme repairs. We won’t say that the blades are bullet-proof, but they’re close.”Dean Rosenlof

The blades have an 18,000 hour service life with overhauls required every 2,800 hours. The list price for the blades is $79,500, sold exclusively through Aeronautical Accessories.

Van Horn Aviation is also developing 206L composite main rotor blades, projected to receive an STC in 2017. The 206L blades will be about 22 inches longer, and will have a service life of 25,000 hours.

Please feel free to use this content with Forecast International and analyst attributions, along with a link to the article. Contact Ray Peterson at +1 (203) 426-0800 or via email at for additional analysis.

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