Upgrade of Super Puma to TH06
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text: Eugen Bürgler / pictures: armasuisse, Eugen Bürgler
The Super Puma at super level
Thanks to upgrading, Super Puma specialised for assistance operations.
The transport helicopters 89 (TH89), better known as Super Pumas, are heavy workers: They carry people and goods to natural disaster areas in Switzerland and abroad, are used for rapid displacement of troops, assist in search and rescue or extinguish forest fires. After 20 years of service, they are being subjected to a value retention programme. Here they are equipped with further capabilities and renamed as TH06 helicopters.
‘We are very much looking forward to the new helicopters’, says Major General Staff Daniel Ringger, ‘and we are convinced that we are getting a very good product with the TH06!’ What the TH06 Super Puma fielding chief of the air force describes as ‘new helicopters’ are the Super Pumas that have been in service for roughly 20 years. This year, the fleet of large transport helicopters has reached the impressive number of 55,000 flying hours. The oldest of the 15 procured Super Pumas has been in service with the air force since 1987.
So it is time for an extensive overhaul as prescribed by the manufacturer and adaptation to increased requirements: ‘Its avionics with analogue instrumentation is at the level of the late 1980s. For flights in controlled civilian airspace there are minimum requirements that the Super Puma can no longer meet’, Daniel Ringger explains. The Super Puma is for instance no longer certified for instrument flight in civilian German airspace. In addition, many components of the cockpit equipment have reached such an age that their maintenance is becoming increasingly difficult. ‘Its current multi-function display (MFD) has become obsolete. If a repair is necessary, this takes very long and the producer sometimes no longer has the spare parts’, Daniel Ringger explains why the fleet has to be upgraded in a maintenance programme. For this parliament has authorised CHF 194 million with the 2006 Armament Programme. RUAG Aviation is responsible for development and serial completion of the TH06.
- View of modern ‘glass cockpit’ of the TH06 Super Puma. Radio and navigation equipment have been considerably enhanced.
Equipped for satellite navigation
The Super Pumas were originally procured as transport helicopters; in the meantime new tasks have emerged for the Super Puma: The powerful helicopters serve as platform for the thermal imaging camera FLIR (forward looking infrared), with which they also have proven their worth in searching for lost persons (see also FLIR / Super Puma). One Super Puma is constantly on standby for search and rescue operations (SAR) and the chopper can even be used for air policing operations when slow and low-flying aircraft are concerned. Enough reason to combine the revision of the helicopter which is due anyway with an upgrade within the context of the value retention programme.
It is true that the TH06 will have new capabilities, so Daniel Ringger is justified in referring to a ‘new’ helicopter. The analogue instrument cockpit will be replaced by a glass cockpit that in appearance will be practically identical to that of the Cougar. The air force introduced the more modern Cougar versions from 2001 onwards. The identical ‘face’ of the cockpit, however, conceals state-of-the-art avionics with functions that the Cougar lacks: In order to be fully compatible with today’s navigation procedures, P-RNAV-capacity (precision area navigation) has been integrated. For this purpose the capacity of the flight management system (FMS) was upgraded and an additional function was integrated enabling autonomous instrument flight to any position with satellite support. ‘That can be very helpful for instance for defining an alternative position during emergency procedures in Kosovo, when we are blocked by weather’, Daniel Ringger explains. Technically that would also be feasible in Switzerland too, but the legal framework is still missing. The TH06, however, will be the first helicopter in our air force that due to INS-GPS is theoretically capable of instrument navigation flight to any position without ground support. If the integrated GPS devices lose track of the satellite signal, the inertia navigation system (INS) takes over navigation. As first air force helicopter, the TH06 will also be equipped with a collision warning device that will alert the pilot to dangerous proximity of other aircraft. Because the TH06 cockpit is visually almost identical to that of the Cougar, both helicopters can be flown with the same license, a fact which considerably lessens conversion expenditure.
- The TH06 Super Puma is specialised for search and rescue: the new spotlight is clearly visible, which is linked to the FLIR thermal imaging camera.
Proven helicopters with state-of-the-art technology
The FLIR dashboard and the FLIR pod are only integrated into the Super Puma. The ‘new’ Super Puma will be a genuine ‘SAR specialist’. A large spotlight is directly linked to the FLIR so that a ‘hot spot’ identified by the FLIR operator, such as a missing person, is visibly illuminated from afar for the cockpit crew and can be identified more rapidly. Consequently, search operations will be considerably more efficient. As further innovation, it will be possible to display the FLIR camera picture on a central cockpit monitor.
A direction finder of the latest generation will also be installed that can be linked with a person locator system. This makes it possible to home in directly on a distress signal, for example from a lost aircraft, and to feed the transmitted data into the FMS and the new digital map display unit. The shortest route to the emergency locator transmitter (ELT) is thus visible at a glance. During air policing, the FMS is also capable of calculating a rendezvous point with the aircraft concerned if the operations centre provides respective data on position, direction and speed.
During his first flights with the TH06 prototype Daniel Ringger was particularly impressed by the helmet mounted display (HMD) that projects the flight data directly into the pilot’s field of vision: ‘You can keep your eyes on the landing place and still see the information of the most important instruments. This is particularly helpful during difficult operations, at night or when landing in snow. With the HMD we an additional set of eyes that are able to see reference points or observe the environment, because the pilot is no longer obliged to concentrate on cockpit indicators.
Flying radio centre
What was lacking in the Super Puma was the ability to communicate directly with partners such as police or border guard. Thanks to extensive radio equipment future TH06 crews will be able to communicate directly on their networks. Especially in emergency situations, we cannot take it for granted that normal lines of communication will function, wherefore an additional satellite communication system will be integrated. This extensive equipment has, however, its cost: the Super Pumas will weigh approximately 200 kg more after their upgrade, some 100 kg are due to the multi-purpose air intakes, air filters that protect the engines from snow, leaves, sand or other foreign bodies. Take-off weight with 18 equipped soldiers and full fuel tanks is thus increased to 8,5 tons and still 500 kg within maximum take-off weight.
The TH06 does without the ISSYS system that protects the Cougar from guided missile attack. According to Daniel Ringger, high risk tactical missions will be flown by the Cougar in the future, while the TH06 Super Puma is predestined for SAR and humanitarian aid operations. Both types will of course continue to serve as multi-purpose helicopters.
After a few delays, the upgrade programme is underway. On 2 April 2012, the first two TH06 Super Pumas are to be delivered to the air force. Five helicopters will always be upgraded at the same time until 2014. By the end of 2014, the final Super Puma will also be equipped as TH06 with new capabilities and a completely overhauled cell and thus fit for 15 more years of service in our air force.
Last updated: 26.04.2012