Born: France
Primarily active in: France

Jean-Brice Dumont, CTO and Executive Vice President of Engineering, Eurocopter                                           

As chief technical officer for Eurocopter, Jean-Brice Dumont reports directly to the company president and CEO, Guillaume Faury, and bears responsibility for current product improvements and next-generation developments. His engineering organization pushed the X3 compound helicopter to an unofficial world speed record of 255 kt before flying concluded at the end of July. Mr. Dumont says, “We’ve done more than we expected. It’s sad to have ended this campaign, but now this step is over, and we need to spend time data-crunching and really figuring out the best options for the future.”

Eurocopter has yet to reveal plans for an X3 follow-on. “It might be heavier. It might be lighter, but we’re trying to find the right mission and going for it,” says Mr. Dumont. “X3 is a hybrid of fixed-wing and helicopter, and it can offer a wide range of perspectives on helicopters. An unexpected point was the agility and maneuverability which is outstanding compared to conventional aircraft. It allows us to control speed and trajectory independently. In other words, you can climb with a quite high rate of climb and low forward speed and descend with a quite steep descent at low or high speed.”

The Eurocopter CTO notes, “Technically speaking, we had to discover much in the area of propellers. We have to continue work on transmissions because it’s an unusual transmission system. Now that we have the basic technological bricks, we have to demonstrate the mission capability of the aircraft. We have to go to the next step, which could be a prototype or another demonstrator. But what we could see with the X3 is there is nothing which is unachievable. It’s a matter of time and energy.”

Jean-Brice Dumont grew up without aviation or aerospace engineering ties in Paris, Marseille, and Tahiti. “My father was the French government representative in French Polynesia. He was a civil servant for the Ministry of Interior. We have this kind of representative in each Department – France is divided into over 100 of these – and the overseas territories have their own representatives.” Traveling to far-off places had already sparked the urge to fly. “It started on my first flight. My uncle was working in Mauritius, and we flew from Paris to Mauritius. The first time I sat on a Boeing 747 on the way from Paris to the Indian Ocean, I decided I would be a pilot. I was seven years old.”

A career in French aerospace engineering had a clear path. Mr. Dumont explains, “After you graduate from high school at the age of 18, you spend two years – we say in jail – doing the preparatory classes to enter, depending on your rank, one or the other engineering school. I spent three years in L’Ecole Polytechnique, which happens to be a military school, and two years in “application” school – ENSAE in Toulouse.” École Nationale Supérieure de l’Aéronautique et de l’Espace offered just one course related to helicopters. “It was more about fixed-wing, but we had this quarter when we had an introduction to the rotary-wing area, and I was already a fan.” Complicated helicopters had a special appeal to the young pilot-engineer, “I also fly fixed-wing, but the area of the unknown was more fascinating to me, and the freedom of the flight – being able to hover and to move freely in three dimensions – was also quite fascinating.”

Testing Technology
A commission from L’Ecole Polytechnique led to a focused flight test engineering assignment at the French defense procurement agency DGA – Direction Générale de l’Armement. Mr. Dumont recalls, “I had a few flights in Alpha Jets and other fixed-wing aircraft, but my job was 100% rotary-wing.” He adds, “At that time, I was a flight test engineer in the flight test center at Istres. I learned to fly helicopters in the French Army Academy, which is the one training all French pilots. At that time they had 100 Gazelles.”

Starting as a simulation test engineer, Jean-Brice Dumont helped take the Tiger anti-tank/armed escort helicopter through systems development. “One of the technical challenges of the Tiger was to somehow build an aircraft around a weapons system,” recalls Mr. Dumont. “The HMI [Human-Machine Interface] was starting to look modern, even though it was at the very beginning of the modern age.”

The multi-national development program also posed its own challenges. “One thing was the French-German cooperation, which was not a new thing, but one of the challenges was to develop a common product with very different cultures.” Mr. Dumont says, “It’s simple and difficult to explain at the same time. While the Germans are much more rigorous and follow very strictly their professors, the French are much more creative. I’d say the Frenchman is the guy for the prototype phase. The German is the guy for the Industrialization phase. At the end of the day, we have to be all together in all phases – that’s what made it exciting.”

Progressively greater responsibilities gave then-Major Dumont new career opportunities. “I spent all my eight years in the flight test center, which was one of the technical areas of the DGA. I moved quite freely from my first role which was a simulation flight test engineer to my last job where I flew much less – I was the head of all test for the Tiger program. I worked for the flight test center, but my role was a special deputy for the Tiger program director.” A conversation with Eurocopter’s Chief Technical Officer led to a civilian job with the helicopter maker in 2004 during development of the multi-national NH90. “We had two competitors in Agusta Westland and Eurocopter, which in this case had to cooperate. That’s not totally unusual in aerospace, but it was a challenge. But in this case we succeeded in developing four variants with strong commonality.”

The NH90 naval and tactical helicopter integrated a range of technologies. “The HMI was a step forward compared to the Tiger, and it was the first time we’d made a full composite structure,” notes Mr. Dumont. The NH90 was also the world’s first production helicopter with fly-by-wire flight controls. “We had our difficulties in development, but we’re very proud of what we achieved. In service, it’s proven to be an amazing system, and it brings real added value in terms of controllability, allowing the pilots to fly and hover in very, very difficult conditions.”

Research and Development
While Mr. Dumont led NH90 proposal efforts in Oman and elsewhere, the X3 high-speed demonstrator was in development. He recalls, “It was a program started with a high level of confidentiality – on a need-to-know basis. I had a few friends on the program, so I knew there was something, but I knew nothing about it.” A brief assignment as the head of the Super Puma product line and a successful campaign for the Korean KHP program led to a new assignment heading up Eurocopter Research and Development, including the successful X3.

The X3 compound configuration addressed one of several important shortcomings in helicopter performance. “Speed is one,” says Mr. Dumont, “but generally better performance is something we can obtain with better integration of the engine – something we try to work on with our engine suppliers. Today, all OEMs are in the model where the engine and the helicopter manufacturers are working separately.” He adds, “We have to pay special attention to drag – this is something fixed-wing manufacturers work a lot on, and we don’t.”

Mr. Dumont acknowledges helicopters also suffer versus fixed-wing aircraft in perceived safety. “People think they are less safe than fixed wing – which is, by the way, not so true. Our aircraft have to be much less noisy and safer.” He explains, “We’re looking at what makes a helicopter have a serious incident or an accident. We look at the technical causes. We’re also working on the operational consequences – maintenance-type, environmental-type, human factors-type. We’re putting special emphasis on safety even where we can say the aircraft is not the cause. That means, as far as human factors are concerned, working on better HMI as far as maintenance is concerned, Condition-Based Maintenance, and better in-flight monitoring.”

Mr. Dumont adds, “I think there is a way for the next generation of Human-Machine Interface to add a bit more augmented reality inside the cockpit.” He nevertheless cautions, “When you look at the Gazelle and the EC225, you have gone from an aircraft with a very wide field of view and a few conventional indicators to four or five large displays in a cockpit where you see less outside. There’s a valid question whether we have to be improving the HMI with large displays or reducing them to increase the field of view of the pilot and work with an eyes-out concept and head-mounted symbology or things on the windshield. There’s no panacea. We have to figure out the mission and the type of the helicopter; what’s the better HMI for utility and safety.” Eurocopter also demonstrated an optionally piloted vehicle in April. “We did demonstrate the concept of plug-and-fly. You can transform an aircraft which has been flying a conventional mission in the morning into a drone in the afternoon.”

Jean-Brice Dumont now oversees some 2,500 Eurocopter engineers and seeks more talent as the company continues to expand its design workforce. “It’s getting harder because we’ve grown significantly over the last years,” he acknowledges. “There is not only the matter of getting more people, but also getting a bit more senior engineers. My main development axis for my population is promoting knowledge transfer and better exchanges between our 45-to 55-year-olds and our 25- to 35-year-olds.”

Jean-Brice Dumont is a member of the AHS International board of directors – serving as the Vice-President for the Europe-Africa Region – and notes Eurocopter is recruiting engineers in the United States. “The majority of our engineers working on R&D at American Eurocopter are Americans,” notes Mr. Dumont. “We have significant activity with our UH-72 military program and we have so much contact with the American helicopter industry as a whole, we see the US as one of our home countries.”

Leadership Profile: Vertiflite November/December 2013