The Airbus EC135 helicopter is an exceptionally popular helicopter that was originally designed to be a demonstrator. It quickly gained popularity that far outshone that humble role so was quickly made available as a production model.
The Airbus EC135 helicopter was originally designed and built by German manufacturer Messerschmitt-Bölkow-Blohm and Aerospatiale as the BO 108 in the 1970s. It was to be a technology showcase, demonstrating all the latest advances in avionics and aerodynamics. It had a hingeless main rotor, later adopted by Sikorsky and Boeing, a lower profile transmission to provide more cabin space, low vibration motor, composite tail rotor, composite cabin materials, digital flight controls and EFIS instrumentation, allowing instrument-only flight.
When Aerospatiale became Eurocopter in 1992, this gave the BO 108 access to the Fenestron tail rotor. The shrouded rotor was more efficient and much quieter than the existing rotor, so was integrated into the design before launch. The EC135 first flew in 1994, was first certified in Germany and the U.S. in 1994 and production began right away. The first Airbus EC135 had twin Pratt and Whitney Canada PW206B engines and was designated the EC135P-1.
The airframe was soon modified to include two Turboméca Arrius 2B engines, designated EC 135T-1. Both engine variants are available. The Pratt and Whitney engines deliver 621 shp, while the Turboméca Arrius 2B 583 shp. The Eurocopter EC 135 is 33ft 7 inches long and has a main rotor diameter of 33ft 6 inches. It weighs 3230 pounds (T1) or 3263 pounds (P1) and has a max takeoff weight of 5997 pounds (6393 pounds P1).
Since first entering service, the Airbus EC135 has seen steady upgrades as technology allowed. That included newer engines in the Pratt and Whitney PW206B3 and Arrius 2B2Plus, FADEC software upgrades and
avionics improvements. The current version of the EC135 helicopter has a cruising speed of 158 mph, a maximum speed of 178 mph and a range of 395 miles. The cabin can be configured to carry five or seven passengers or be modified for utility roles, such as law enforcement or medevac. Due to its reliability and flexibility, the EC 135 is used as a police helicopter or air ambulance across the world. Users include the Ontario Provincial Police, Japanese National Police, Police Scotland, Broward County Sheriff, CALSTAR, the German Army and the Spanish Army Airmobile Force.
There is also a military variant of the EC135, the Eurocopter EC635, which has been modified to provide fire support and medevac capabilities to front line troops. It is currently in service in Portugal, Jordan, Switzerland and Iraq.
Like it’s smaller sibling the Eurocopter EC120, the Airbus EC135 helicopter has endured throughout real changes in the aerospace industry. By a program of steady improvement, the already efficient airframe has become more flexible, more powerful and more useful with each iteration. While still predominantly a civilian passenger helicopter, there aren’t many roles it cannot fulfill.