Restored Dauphin Is One Of Several To Come
by ANN Correspondent Chris Esposito
Rotor Leasing, a company that restores ex-military Gazelle and
Dauphin helicopters, made its first public appearance at AirVenture
this week. The company, which just purchased four Dauphins, plans
to sell three of the four helicopters. Rotor Leasing's first
completely restored Dauphin is at their display.
The AS365 Dauphin helicopters were purchased from the Irish Air
Corps, who decided the helicopter was outdated for their needs. The
Dauphin is a twin-turbine IFR-capable helicopter equipped with a
four-axis autopilot, and was originally designed by Eurocopter to
fit the needs of several militaries. The aircraft has served all
over the world, from the US Coast Guard to South Africa. Today
Eurocopter sells the AS565 Panther as the "bigger and better"
version of the Dauphin.
Rotor Leasing began when Chris Bateman, the company's president,
retired from a career in software and decided that he wanted to fly
helicopters. Bateman bought a Gazelle, and after some urging from
his wife, decided to start restoring them. He then met Keith Story,
partner in Rotor Leasing, who thought they should restore a bigger
helicopter. When the Irish Air Corp made an announcement that they
would be auctioning off their Dauphins, Bateman took it "as a sign
from God." After winning the bid for the aircraft, Bateman had to
go through a long process with the Irish and French government (the
Dauphin is a French aircraft) and he didn't see the helicopters for
a year. Bateman had to be licensed due to the fact that the Dauphin
could potentially carry weapons. "I'm basically an international
arms dealer." he jokes.
Rotor Leasing not only purchased four airframes, but a huge
amount of spare parts. Boxes of parts were packed into boxes in no
specific order and made for huge headaches. "Tooling was a chore."
Bateman says. Rotor Leasing's staff of three full-timers had to
convert metric to English, as well as buy and machine their own
tools. Two members of the Rotor Leasing team, Paul Anderson and
Mark Martin, are obviously dedicated to the restorations. "The
footwork to do the job reliably was astronomical." explains
Anderson. For the gear struts, of which the poorly translated
manuals left much to be desired, the team spent forty-five days
figuring out how they worked. The team also computer-catalogued the
many spare parts and sparse tools. All told, the restoration of the
Dauphin on display took over 5,800 man hours. "It should take us
about two-thirds as long on the second one." says Bateman.
The 1988 AS365Fi Dauphin on display is classified as
experimental due to being ex-military, and the others will be as
well. Essentially restored to stock configuration with the
exception of the radio and transponder, its original Honeywell
Bendix avionics package was certainly ahead of its time. The
Honeywell system will be replaced with a more current Op
Technologies EFIS on the next ship, though Bateman acknowledges
that the Honeywell "is beautiful for IFR flight." The Dauphin can
fly as fast as 150 knots, and has an interesting emergency feature,
called super contingency power, or SPC. In an emergency such as an
engine failure, you can press the SPC button to boost the remaining
engine's power and avoid disaster. The catch is that the overhaul
required when you land costs a quarter of a million dollars.
Rotor Leasing has put about 20 hours on the 1988 Dauphin so far,
and the company is planning to sell it in the near future. The
second aircraft will be Keith Storey's personal ship, and the
remaining two will be sold as well. Bateman says the only limit on
the amount of helicopters they will refurbish will be a supply of
airframes. Rotor Leasing will probably stick to restoring Gazelles
and Dauphins, as Bateman considers them the most fun. The currently
completed Dauphin will sell for $1,200,000, a bargain when you
consider a "from the factory" price would be ten to twelve million
dollars. The helicopter is aimed at someone wanting an incredibly
agile twin-turbine helicopter for personal transportation, and when
it comes to agility the Dauphin has little competition.
"It's been upside down before," Bateman says with a smile.