With the formation of Eurocopter in 1992, the BO 108 design again underwent modifications and the name changed to EC 135. The fine-tuning that went into the design at this stage set the tone for what Eurocopter would strive to accomplish across its model range, which today encompasses six civil helicopter lines, all of them new or newly upgraded in the last two decades. The product portfolio starts with the diminutive single-engine EC 120 introduced in 1998 and continues with the AS 350, EC 130, EC 145, EC 155 and, finally, the EC 225 Super Puma, the largest helicopter in the Eurocopter family with room for up to 19 passengers and crew. (Two new models, code-named X3 and X4, are in the works — check out the June iPad edition or visit flyingmag.com for more on these projects.)
At the program’s outset, Eurocopter wisely chose to offer two engines for the EC 135, the Turbomeca Arrius 2B and Pratt & Whitney Canada PW206B. These engines have since been upgraded to the more powerful Arrius 2B2 and PW206B2 versions, and the helicopters are now known as the EC 135 T2+ and P2+. The Pratt engines are the preferred choice of buyers in the United States, where Eurocopter in some ways is still seeking to establish itself against the likes of Bell Helicopter and Sikorsky. When the EC 135 made its first public appearance at the 1995 Heli-Expo convention in Las Vegas, potential buyers were immediately impressed. Not only did the new helicopter look drop-dead gorgeous with its aggressive stance, flowing lines and shrouded fenestron tail rotor, but the economy and performance figures were eye-openers as well. Any doubters who still had misgivings about the future of the newly formed Franco-German helicopter manufacturer undoubtedly came away from the show with a much more positive impression of the company. It was the start of something very, very good.
Buyers who lined up to be the first to add the EC 135 to their fleets were delighted with their decisions. The helicopter was stable in flight, performed great and, most important, was a big-time moneymaker for those who laid early bets on it. To be able to provide more space in the cabin, the designers pushed the transmission deck, oil sumps and other mechanical equipment as far outboard as possible. Locking rails were fitted into the EC 135’s flat floor, offering unmatched versatility for the arrangement of seats and medical stretchers. As the final touches, Eurocopter added huge clamshell doors at the rear of the cabin and oversize sliding doors on each side of the fuselage, completing a package that clearly was meant to meet the expectations of EMS operators first and foremost. But the new model was attractive to a wide cross section of buyers, whether they carried oil workers to offshore oil rigs, hunted down criminals from above or ferried executives. Sales of the EC 135 exploded out of the gate.