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More than 40 privately-owned helicopters and 107 participants touched down on the grass runway of St-Jovite Airport in the mountain resort town of Mount Tremblant, Que., for the annual HeliClub fly-in in late May.
The weather forecast called for rain and thunderstorms, but it was sunny for most of the two days, allowing owner-pilots and friends to attend safety management and co-pilot courses, fly new helicopter models, conduct a little flight training and socialize.
This year, Bell, Airbus and Robinson were the prime event sponsors and offered potential customers demo flights on eight different helicopter models.
Airbus brought a twin-engine H135 equipped with Helionix avionics to Canada for the first time, and also flew an EC120 B and new H130 (EC130 T2).
Robinson dealer HelicoStore flew a R44 and R66.
And Bell flew the prototype 407GXI in from the Mirabel factory and also gave demo flights in a customer-owned Bell 505 and 429.
“Many Quebec operators like to upgrade to a new helicopter every two years,” observed Jean-Charles Emter, president of HeliClub and HelicoStore, a helicopter dealer. “A lot of people start out with a Robinson R44 and then upgrade to an R66. Some owners are upgrading to the Bell 505 which is a great machine with a very simple start process with a dual channel FADEC, but it costs over $1 million so is attracting a different clientele.”
The first four Bell 505s delivered in Canada went to Quebec customers and another 12 have been ordered by Quebec owner-pilots, with Bell reportedly sold out through March 2019.
One of the secrets to the growth of the private helicopter market in Canada is that HeliClub gives owners plenty of opportunities to have fun with their machines. Every year, HeliClub organizers have added something new to the fly-in program to keep owner-pilots challenged and entertained.
The highlight this year was a precision flying competition designed to develop a Canadian team to compete in the World Helicopter Championships, in which teams from 12 different nations currently participate.
“During a trip to Russia, we met the Russian helicopter team and we decided to create our own team in Quebec,” said Emter.
Seven teams participated in the fly-in competition, primarily flying Robinson R44s and an R66.
“Each pilot was accompanied by an instructor as they competed in five different precision flying activities and five teams completed all activities,” explained Emter.
One activity required the pilot to do a precision landing on a simulated pad; another required the pilot to pick up an orange traffic safety cone with the tip of a skid tube and accurately place it in another location.
The other three activities required good crew coordination and included the pilot helping the crewman to accurately fly a buoy attached to a five-metre rope through a slalom course on the ground; using a rope to lift a bucket full of water and transporting it to another container without spilling; and accurately dropping three small balls from a high hover into a small container.
Most of the tasks appeared to be simple, but they proved to be a challenge to several teams. The activities were timed and scored by two officials on the ground. The winning team earned 29 points, with the pilot accompanied by an instructor from Helicraft.
Members of the newly-formed team hope to represent Canada at the World Helicopter Championships in Minsk, Belarus, this coming July 23 to 29.
At other times of the year, HeliClub members fly in smaller groups to special events in Quebec, and a partnership with HELIMOB includes opportunities to travel in a self-piloted helicopter in other scenic areas of the world, including the Rocky Mountains in Canada, California and even Russia.
Volunteer support this year was provided by student pilots from Helicraft and Passport Helicopters, two major flight schools in the Montreal area. Most of the students come from France or Switzerland, finding Quebec an affordable place to flight train, with desired instruction in utility operations and lessons offered in French.
Representatives from several helicopter operators attended to recruit some motivated helicopter pilots for their fleets.
Bell also used the occasion to bring some of its aircraft delivery and customer support staff from the Mirabel factory out to a fun event full of helicopter enthusiasts.