The Swiss air force TH06 Super Puma on display at the ILA Berlin Air Show isn’t your grandfather’s Super Puma.
One of a fleet of 15 acquired nearly two decades ago, it has been completely overhauled and modernized by RUAG Aviation, with replacement of its 1980s equipment bringing it to the standards of Switzerland’s TH98 Cougar helicopters. As such, it is designed to last another 20 years.
RUAG won an international bid to upgrade the entire fleet of Super Pumas. So far it has delivered two, and the one on show here at ILA was handed over only last week.
Among the most important improvements are the integration of a flight management system, two global positioning systems (GPS), an inertial navigation system, a modern digital map display, flight-data recorders, an anti-collision warning system, several new radio systems (police, encrypted radio and satellite transmission) and the integration of a searchlight coupled with forward-looking infrared. The upgrade turns the Swiss air force TH06 into a specialized rotorcraft for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, search-and-rescue and humanitarian operations.
It wasn’t just plug-and-play, says Heinz Scholl, RUAG Aviation’s VP for military aviation. “It’s a completely new cockpit—everything came out, including the electrical cabinet.”
And in went 25 km. (15.5 mi.) of wiring for each helicopter, with 13,500 electrical connections joining 50 new systems. “The new cockpit is highly complex, and many of the helicopter’s technical data packs needed to be created anew,” says Scholl. A large part of the avionics suite had to be developed from scratch, leaving just one-quarter of the cockpit instruments unchanged, while another quarter were upgraded to the level of the TH98 Cougar TH98. Half of the instruments in the avionics suite today are either brand-new or underwent substantial expansions of their functions.
It took RUAG four to five years to design the systems and build the first prototype, including customizing the software and testing the new equipment. A second prototype was added to the validation trials, which took another year. “It was very complex,” Scholl says. Why? “We are actually doing what the customer wants, with no pre-developed solutions.”
Asked how RUAG can compete in such a high-cost country as Switzerland, Scholl says RUAG’s ability to customize and engineer the solution made it better in price and value, while high labor costs force it to achieve short turnaround times.
The first two upgraded aircraft were delivered at the beginning of April. RUAG Aviation is now taking one every two months for the 13-month upgrade cycle.