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Heli-Expo showcases new turbine helicopter, training tech

HAI rebranded to VAI

Thousands of helicopter pilots, businesses, and enthusiasts from around the world descended on Anaheim, California, for Helicopter Association International's Heli-Expo 2024.

The main floor of HAI Heli-Expo 2024 was flooded with helicopter industry pilots, professionals, and enthusiasts ready to meet vendors, hear industry announcements, and take part in discussions. Photo by Niki Britton.

To be more inclusive to the ever-expanding electric- and hybrid-powered vertical lift industry, HAI kicked things off by announcing it has rebranded as Vertical Aviation International (VAI), with Verticon coming to Dallas in 2025.

“The vertical aviation landscape is experiencing a wave of rapid expansion, with advancements in technology and new aircraft types progressing through certification. But while some see competition or division, we see the power of unity,” Chairwoman Nicole Battjes and President and CEO James Viola said in a letter announcing the change.

Battjes also assured those in attendance at the general membership meeting that helicopters would continue to be an important part of the organization.

“Beyond the name change," Battjes said, “our commitment to offering the industry's most effective advocacy, communication channels, safety programs, education, and networking opportunities remains steadfast.”

There were big names aplenty drawing crowds on the exhibition floor with beautiful helicopters and electric vertical takeoff and landing aircraft on display from Airbus, Enstrom Helicopter Corp., Sikorsky, Bell Robinson Helicopter Co., and first-time exhibitor Wisk Aero.

Perhaps the single most popular aircraft on display was U.K.-based Hill Helicopters' turbine-powered HX50. The composite design commanded a steady stream of interested attendees all eager to learn more about the new helicopter.

Coming off the hype of the company’s recent impact-resistant windshield announcement, Robinson announced a changing of the guard during HAI: Kurt Robinson, president and CEO, has stepped down and taken on an advisory role with the company and will continue to serve on the board of directors. David Smith, former vice president of operations, is now the president and CEO. This change marks the first time in 50 years that Robinson will be led by someone not in the Robinson family, and Smith will be the third leader of the company.

Enstrom, which was purchased by entrepreneur, Enstrom owner, and pilot Chuck Surack in 2022 following Enstrom’s bankruptcy and closure, discussed the company’s growth and future plans. From the announcement of the company’s new FAA-approved repair station, the certification of the Genesys helicopter autopilot for the Enstrom 480B, and multiple orders headed to customers that include the Zambia air force and the Peruvian military, Enstrom is working toward big growth in 2024 and beyond.

“We’ve grown, we went from under 100 employees one year ago to almost 160 employees, huge, huge for our little company,” said Todd Tetzlaff, president of Enstrom. “Part of that, or in particular, is we have 50 percent growth within our engineering department, and that I did not come easy. We had to pull out the stops, change our strategies, change our tactics, to enable us to get some quality folks in engineering.”

“Tetzlaff continued, “for 2024, we’re committed to re-energizing our products, our brand, and recommitting our efforts to support our customers. Enstrom is here for the long haul, and we’re excited to be here.”

Enstrom owner Chuck Surack and President Todd Tetzlaff pose for a photo in front of the Enstrom 480B on display at HAI Heli-Expo 2024. Photo by Niki Britton. TRU Simulation staff members speak to interested visitors about the release of the company’s new virtual reality simulator on display at HAI Heli-Expo 2024. Photo by Niki Britton. Hill Helicopters’ turbine-powered HX50 commanded an all-day audience eager to learn more about this composite newcomer at HAI Heli-Expo 2024. Photo by Niki Britton. Helicopter enthusiasts young and old take a look at the MD Helicopters display at HAI Heli-Expo 2024. Photo by Niki Britton.

On the flight training front, Florida-based TRU Simulation, a subsidiary of Textron Aviation, announced its new Veris Virtual Reality (VR) flight simulator that will provide helicopter and fixed-wing customers with a completely new flight training experience. The setup combines a full flight simulator with six degrees-of-freedom motion base with TRU’s Image Generator powered by Unreal Engine.

“The Veris VR Flight Simulator is designed to meet both FAA flight training device level 7 and EASA flight training device level 3 standards. Certification activities with both FAA and EASA are in process,” the company explained in a news release.

TRU plans to continue developing the Veris VR sim for multiple aircraft platforms, starting with the Bell 505.

“The Bell Training Academy is honored to be the official launch customer for the Veris VR Flight Simulator for the Bell 505 and provide advanced training solutions to the aircraft’s growing customer base,” said Bell Training Academy General Manager Chad Sparks. “Our world-renowned institution aims to deliver the most comprehensive maintenance and flight training for Bell customers, and we’re excited to collaborate with TRU Simulation, another Textron business unit, to support Bell’s global network.”

On the floors above the exhibition hall, helicopter industry professionals and hopefuls gathered for the HAI Helicopter Industry Career Fair. Military pilots and maintainers also had the opportunity to learn more about transitioning from military to civilian helicopter careers.

There was plenty to see, do, and learn at Heli-Expo 2024 and with VAI’s official transition from Heli-Expo to Verticon on the horizon, next year looks to be even more diverse in the helicopter and electric/hybrid vertical aviation space.

Niki Britton

eMedia Content Producer
eMedia Content Producer Niki Britton joined AOPA in 2021. She is a private pilot who enjoys flying her 1969 Cessna 182 and taking aerial photographs.

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