Heli-Expo Takes: a First for VAI

The biggest one yet? Perhaps not—but guaranteed there’s never been a Heli-Expo as widely ranging. It’s part of the reason the 70-year-plus organization went through a serious rebranding, to Vertical Aviation International, to encompass all types of vertical lift. Now that VTOLs (electric and otherwise) claw towards certification, VAI feels like a necessary pivot for an association that used to wear “helicopter” in its title and DNA.

My other key takeaways?

  1. This is a big-money show. It now approaches NBAA’s annual BACE in size and spend. Record crowds hovered into the last Heli-Expo (the 35th, before its rebranding to Verticon next year in 2025), bringing the total to 15,000. Last year’s BACE in Vegas hosted 20,000. For folks focused on fixed-wing lift, the numbers may surprise you—but they make sense to anyone watching this space take off.
  2. Women now take on more visible roles, since Karen Gebhart’s leadership a few years back. Now we have the dynamite Nicole Battjes serving as chairman of VAI’s board of directors this year. We caught up at lunch on day two, and her company, Rainbow Helicopters, plans significant growth in the years to come—even as the team garnered well deserved recognition for its efforts following the Lahaina fires.
  3. State of the art lift still centers on traditional rotorcraft designs, like the upcoming Bell 525, and the Leonardo AW09, both coming into TC later this year, perhaps. Fly-by-wire and envelope protection rule the immediate future, as these protocols enter maturity ahead of their incorporation into eVTOLs.
  4. Powerplants evolve too—witnessed by SafranAirbusGE, and Pratt & Whitney with carbon-based thrust as well as each OEM’s forays into electric, hybrid, and hydrogen power. Watch this space for the weekly reports coming out as each model enters or continues flight test on various platforms—on rotor, powered lift, and fixed-wing aircraft.