West Virginia now manufactures unique composite helicopters

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Carbon-fiber composite helicopters allow for easier and less-expensive repairs.
Carbon-fiber composite helicopters allow for easier and less-expensive repairs. (Photo courtesy RCBI)

The result of a collaboration among Safari Helicopters, ,  and the at Marshall University, a new helicopter is now commercially available and has made its first sales.

Brian Alley, owner of Carbon Fiber Composites, in Ona, near Barboursville, West Virginia, says its unique composite construction is rare and expedites repairs.

“What makes the Safari helicopter different is it is composed almost entirely of composite materials,” he says, “and is one of the only helicopters on the market to utilize an entirely composite freestanding tail boom, which allows for simpler and less expensive repairs.”

Composite materials typically consist of fibers—such as carbon or glass—blended into plastic to give it strength and density without added weight.

Composites are important to the aviation industry because they provide structural strength with better fuel efficiency and performance, he says.

The Safari helicopter made its debut at the Experimental Aircraft Association’s AirVenture in 2018 in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, the world’s largest annual convention for aviation enthusiasts. The team returned to Oshkosh this year to demonstrate its capabilities by providing rides for convention participants and potential buyers.

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Carbon Fiber Composites is now manufacturing all of the composite components entirely in West Virginia to fulfill orders for the new aircraft.

Charlotte Weber, director and CEO of the Robert C. Byrd Institute, says the initiative is an ideal example of the innovation that can be achieved in West Virginia, which once suffered a lack of technical resources.

“This new aircraft is an example of a company identifying a niche market and taking advantage of RCBI’s resources to grow its business right here in West Virginia,” Weber said.

“From our startup support, to design engineering prototypes to manufacturing assistance, RCBI has been helping to build and diversify West Virginia’s economy for 30 years by supporting businesses like Carbon Fiber.”

For more information about grant opportunities or other support from RCBIAero, contact Jim Smith at jsmith@rcbi.org or 304-781-1688.

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