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Evolution of the "Eco-Star"
When American Eurocopter unveiled at Heli-Expo 2001 its brand-new, 21st century machine, the extraordinary EC-130B4 "Eco-Star," it bore the name, colors, and distinctive paint world of aviation, and the culmination of years of work, dedication—and yes, dreams—by Blue Hawaiian's owners, Dave and Patti Chevalier.
In early 1997, the Helicopter Tour Operators Committee of the Helicopter Association International-which was at that time chaired by Dave Chevalier-resolved to visit each of the helicopter manufacturers to urge them to design a next-generation air-touring helicopter utilizing state-of-the-art "quiet technology." Prior to this effort there had been some attempts to create quieter helicopters but the technology was not suitable for tour aircraft.
As part of this outreach, in October 1997, David and Patti, along with Blue's Vice President, Dave Griffin, went to the American Eurocopter factory in Marignane, France. There, they met with Xavier de la Servette, a design engineer who is the head of the A-Star program world-wide. (The American Eurocopter A-Star is currently the dominant helicopter in worldwide air touring.)
Working closely with a small group of fellow tour operators from the Grand Canyon and New York, the Blue Hawaiian team forged a task force with American Eurocopter. A mutual commitment was made to support the development of a 21st Century aircraft that would have all the most modern features that current tour helicopters lack. But of paramount importance, it had to be a touring helicopter that would be significantly quieter than any currently in service.
Helicopter tours have always been the ultimate in eco-tourism activities. Unlike wilderness trekking, horseback riding, trail hiking, and river-running, tour helicopters leave no negative impacts on the delicate ecosystems of our national parks and wilderness areas. Yet the Chevaliers were determined to make helicopters greener still.
During the ensuing four-year development of what would abecome the EC-130B4 "Eco-Star," numberous intense meetings took place, both in the United States and in Europe. Blue Hawaiian put their money where their mouth was, as the saying goes, writing firm orders for the helicopter even before the prototype was ready.
In November 1999, David and Patti returned to Marignane to meet with Eurocopter officials. At that time, Eurocopter did a flight demonstration of the prototype at a secret location near Marignane. Although the aircraft was a test model so that only test pilots could fly in it, the Chevaliers were given the opportunity to go over every inch of the aircraft for a half day.
Dave Chevalier recalls the moment: "This was, without question, the most exciting day of my career in aviation. All the ideas and development talks, the planning and consultation, had actually evolved into a magnificent aircraft that was everything we could have hoped for. I can still feel the excitement and wonder of seeing what was only a dream just twenty-four months before, come true. I don't think I'll ever get over it."
Blue Hawaiian was the launch customer for this aircraft. The company not only received the world's first EC-130B4, but also the second in August, 2001, and another by the end of the year. Blue Hawaiian now has the largest fleet of Eco-Stars in the air-tour industry (currently ten Eco-Stars bear the Blue Hawaiian name and colors; four more will be delivered in summer 2009).
It is truly the dawn of a new era in helicopter touring, and Blue Hawaiian Helicopters has played a critical role in bringing it about.
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