Unless you live in Auckland or Queenstown, fly the Grand Canyon or are a chopper spotter haunting Monaco - you could well go your entire career without seeing the EC130B4. Big fat cabin, robust tail boom, enormous vertical fin and non-existent [traditional] tail rotor; they remind me of an Axolotl; not quite fully evolved but still a fully functioning helicopter.
Since remote area operations were not the mindset of the committed aesthetes in France, I was one of those pilots for whom the EC130 B4 had not appeared on the flight line. The B4 was clearly designed for owners to avoid using the dingy off the back of the super yacht or as stylish way to arrive at the Montreal Grand Prix.
Instead like many contract pilots my first opportunity came one long weekend when seconded to provide VIP transport to Pauanui. Most regulators don´t perceive the differences between the AS350 B3 and the EC130 B4 to be drastic enough to warrant a separate type endorsement. Abusing this fact, I converted my licence and educated myself on type differences using a secreted Flight Manual shortly before my check ride. During the obviously busy check ride, I rapidly assimilated to the type noting a few idiosyncrasies but not enough to feel uncomfortable. In fact it is hard to feel uncomfortable in those seats, AIRBUS religiously install well-designed seats in a tastefully designed interior.
If you've flown an AS350 B3, the starting with the dual FADEC/EBCAU in the B4 is the usual non-event [as long as you have a strong battery] and the running gear is 100% familiar excepting the Fenestron Anti-Torque System. There are a few extra AD´s around the Fenestron attachment region and a lot of small blades on the Fenestron. One has to step back to ensure they are all there, gently shake and inspect the leading edge of each one for pitting and wear.
I´ve subsequently noted that due the streamlined design of the Fenestron it is unusual for the blades to be severely worn. If you avoid prolonged hovering in particulate [the sand of Pauanui, the volcanic calderas of Hawaii, rock tossing philistines etc.] the enclosed fan blades are basically protected from translation onwards.
The most notable difference is the heavy tail which is accentuated while training due the lack of another five bodies in the cabin and the tail boom located battery. The cyclic is positioned well forward when the cabin is empty. It is also unwieldy translating sideways and I noticed a pitching effect on the airframe and increased workload with the pedals to hold heading. It would be a rubbish helicopter for cattle mustering but if like normal pilots you fly in the direction you are heading... not a pain point. If there is a pardonable offence it is vibration. The console ‘floats’ laterally with the endemic three-per of the Main Rotor which is most noticeable in the aft rear passenger seat. A trait that can never be completely tuned out.
I don’t mind the vibration but a lack of Air Conditioning is intolerable. Unless you like punishing yourself or live in Iqaluit, then climate control is critical to keep your passengers comfortable due the surplus of Perspex and overhead skylights. Luckily aftermarket A/C is reasonably priced and readily installed.
Like the Axolotl, the EC130B4 ploughs through atmosphere with the powerful Arriel 2B1 burning Jet A1 commiserate with the effort and induced parasite drag from the large frontal area. Speed also equals increased vibrations and near AEW you will achieve VNE [perhaps with a little descent… ] but it will feel like your about to jump back in time.
Planning at 100 knots for passenger comfort and common-sense, is right in the sweet spot for this aircraft.
TO BUY OR NOT TO BUY?
If you are considering a purchase that can make you money in non-utility roles where more seats with a view is the mission or you need a family wagon to get everyone to the island for the weekend, then the B4 is brilliant. And of course, we have an EC130 B4 for sale.
They have yet to invent the perfect helicopter and to make it completely flawless it will have to be unmanned. Look past the minor issues, plan for or expect Air Conditioning and you’ll enjoy the fun of the EC130 B4.
One last bit of advice and a word of caution: The EC130 B4 is delicious to look at, settle into and fly. It’s a great way to impress your wife or make her completely disparaging of your trusty R44…
Here's a video of a test flight we took.