The first Bell Helicopter 429 Global Ranger delivered in Canada came Sept. 8, 2010, Bob Dengler said, rattling the date off the top of his head. One reason he remembers so well may be because it was delivered to him. Another reason could be that he and his son, Steven Dengler, are about to embark on a global circumnavigation on board that 429.
Canada's birthday is July 1 (Canada Day, or Fête du Canada in French). On Saturday, the Denglers – along with retired 429 test pilot Rob "Dugal" MacDuff – are set to depart National Helicopters in Vaughan, Ontario, Canada, and take a 37-day, 20,000-nm trip around the Northern Hemisphere. This circumnavigation is in celebration of Canada's 150th anniversary, and everything about the journey is Canadian. The helicopter was built at Bell Helicopter Textron Ltd.'s plant in Mirabel, just west of Montreal. The crew is Canadian. Canadian VIPs will join the crew for certain portions of the trip. There are planned featured stops along the way to Canadian historical sites – including the Mirabel plant (the last stop the return to Vaughan). The flight is also raising money for Canadian organizations.
Dubbed "C150 Global Odyssey," (C150GO), the project is a registered Canadian nonprofit, raising money for True Patriot Love Foundation and Southlake Foundation. The former supports military families in Canada, including community-based programs that address challenges that veterans face. True Patriot Love also contributes to the Canadian Institute for Military and Veterans Health Research. Southlake Foundation fundraises for Southlake Regional Health Centre in Ontario. The center serves more than 1 million people.
Along with generating donations, C150GO is set to achieve several "firsts." The team claims the Denglers would be the first father-son team to circumnavigate the globe in any aircraft and the journey would be the first Canadian helicopter circumnavigation. According to C150GO's website, the Denglers plan to work with the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (the arbiter of world aerospace records) and Guinness World Records to make these official. But even if no records were to become official, the circumnavigation would be recorded in another place that can cement it in history: the internet. This helicopter, Steven said, would be the first to circumnavigate the globe with internet on board.
Using Honeywell's Aspire Satellite Communications System for in-flight connectivity, the Denglers plan to be active on social media during the flight, sharing pictures, videos and blog posts along the way. The trip includes 103 airports in 14 countries, so C150GO crew will have much to share. As new and exciting as that is, it's not the only reason the crew is thankful for the Aspire 200.
"We get to take pictures and video. We get to blog and share with the world in real time, thanks to the broadband connectivity on the helicopter made possible by Honeywell. It's really a game-changer," Steven told R&WI. "It means that rather than a solitary journey, we're going to be in constant contact with the world and chatting with fans and tweeting, but also sharing wonderful, wonderful images and videos of what we're seeing as we go along. That being said, from a very selfish perspective, having the data in the cockpit radically increases our ability to manage mission risk in real-time. So we'll get to see real-time weather; we get to be in contact with ground stations."
With the ability to use apps – like Honeywell's GoDirect Cabin Connectivity and a wind/weather app called Windy – and have real-time contact with ground personnel, Steven noted the flight would be made safer. Especially during the legs of the trip that occur over the North Atlantic, he said that kind of weather data "radically transforms the mission risk profile." For a trip like this, planning ahead is even more critical.
C150GO has been in the works since December 2015. Maintenance, fuel, visas, flight paths and more have all demanded planning. Although some aspects of planning caused frustration, other parts have been uplifting for the Denglers. Steven said that as news spread about C150GO, the helicopter community has reached out to them to give guidance about clearing customs, routing, fuel, meals, stops and other items.
"Aviation is a giant fraternity. And helicopter aviation is a fraternity inside of that fraternity," Steven said. "As people find out about this trip, they are contacting us with help and guidance, and it's just wonderful."
As it stands, the first leg of the journey includes stops in Canada, Greenland, Iceland, Faroe Islands, the U.K., France, Germany and Czech Republic. The second leg has stops in Poland, Latvia, Russia, the U.S. and back to Canada. The third leg has 44 stops, all in Canada, including the final stop back to the beginning at National Helicopters in Ontario. Some of these stops are for fun, some are for fuel, some are for maintenance.
Bob explained that the 429 normally requires maintenance every 50 hours. The first maintenance stop is in Prague at a Bell-certified facility. The second will come in Whitehorse, Yukon, back in Canada. By then, Bob said the helicopter would have flown a total of 100 hours. By the time the crew reaches 150 hours, the helicopter should be back to home. The helicopter will be on a Bell Customer Advantage Plan, which Bob said does not require the crew to pay for parts, if parts should be needed.
"[This kind of plan] is very common in the aircraft industry but uncommon in the helicopter industry," Bob told R&WI. "I think the confidence level with this helicopter – because it is so modern and really requires very little maintenance – is the reason that they've gone into a program like that."
Bob, who has more than 900 hours in the 429, will rotate as pilot-in-command with MacDuff, who has more than 12,000 hours of flight experience. While Bob has experience flying helicopters long distances (he flew his 429 4,400 nm in 2015), Steven does not. He has been a fixed-wing pilot for a decade and is currently nearing completion of his 429 certification. He may not have 900 hours like his father, but he does enjoy flying the 429. Steven trained on a Bell 206, and he said going from driving that to the 429 was quite a difference.
"So much is done for you automatically. The ergonomics are amazing; the seats are comfortable," Steven said of the 429. "Despite the fact that it's this big, powerful helicopter, it's smooth as glass to fly. I just can't imagine a better platform to [fly for] circumnavigation."
But it will be up to Bob and MacDuff to fly over the ocean. Whenever he is asked how that will be accomplished, Bob said he usually replies, "very carefully." The plan is to fly on the east coast of Canada up to the Canadian Arctic. The helicopter would then have to cross from Pangnirtung, Nunavut, to Nuuk, Greenland, a straight-line distance of about 370 nm that Bob said is near the limit of the helicopter's range. The 400-nm trip from Kulusuk, Greenland, to Reykjavik, Iceland, will also require the crew to cross the ocean. The third ocean crossing will happen when the helicopter travels about 270 nm from Egilsstadir, Iceland, to Vágar, Faroe Islands.
For the longer flights, the crew will pack a ferrying bladder "in the baggage compartment and that will allow us an extra hundred miles of range or about an extra 40 minutes, which is exactly the sort of cushion that you would like to have," Bob said. "Again, the Aspire 200 system will be very useful to us because we will be able to get real-time weather and real-time wind."
With this much riding on the connected helicopter, the system has to be efficient. Honeywell's Aspire 200 uses interleaver waveform that can deliver "error-free high-speed worldwide connectivity," that company says. Originally developed for businessand general aviation fixed-wing aircraft, Aspire 200 was redesigned by Honeywell for the helicopter platform. Its first supplemental type certificate (STC) for the product was for the Leonardo Helicopters AW139. Honeywell Aerospace's product director for satellite communication, Mark Goodman (who is also based in Canada), told R&WI that the 429 was the company's fifth rotorcraft STC for Aspire 200.
"The Bell 429 is actually one of the helicopter types that was within our area of interest for this product," Goodman said. "The Denglers have just offered us an opportunity to do it sooner than when we had planned. We targeted mainly twin-engine, larger helicopters; 429 falls into that category."
He went on to explain that the 429's mission set also made it a good fit for Aspire 200. Although the Denglers are using it in a VIP-transport configuration, Goodman said Honeywell sees connectivity as being a "very interesting and important resource" for 429 operators like the Canadian Coast Guard.
There were obstacles in designing Aspire 200 for a helicopter. The main rotor's spinning blades disrupt the connection between the antenna and the satellite. To compensate for this, Honeywell used high data rates, Goodman said, which makes the link more robust by using long-burst interleaver.
The Aspire 200 "offers a very friendly user interface and standard Wi-Fi and telephony whether it's two-wire or using our voice-over IP application that can sit right on your iPhone to connect the end user," Goodman said. "In this case, it's the Denglers and their helicopter, through to the rest of the world, over satellite."
The father-son duo is not the first pair to circumnavigate the world in a helicopter. That "first" belongs to H. Ross Perot Jr. and J. Coburn, whose Bell 206L-1 LongRanger II "Spirit of Texas" took them to more than 26 countries in 29 days in 1982. The aircraft had to refuel 56 times, according to the U.S. Smithsonian Institution, whose Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Dulles, Virginia displays that helicopter. Although people can catch a glimpse of it when visiting the museum now, they did not have much of an opportunity to be involved when the flight was actually happening. But when the Denglers' connected 429 takes them around the world, the world can follow along each day.
Click here to learn how to donate to C150GO, and to find out more about the circumnavigation.