Coming off what CEO Mike Redenbaugh called “Bell’s best year in decades,” the company plans to unveil–literally–a new light helicopter this morning at 11:30 a.m. here at Heli-Expo.
Called the Bell 417 and derived from the single-engine 407, the model on display features a nose-mounted forward-looking infrared camera, high skids and other improvements developed as part of Bell’s modular affordable product line (MAPL) program.
“I’m very pleased,” said Redenbaugh, “with having the [Honeywell] HTS900 engine not only for the ARH [the U.S. Army’s new armed reconnaissance helicopter], but also for our commercial 417. This is vital to see that commercial/military crossover, which is one of the fundamental things the U.S. Army is looking at.”
At a pre-show press conference yesterday afternoon, Redenbaugh said Bell reported revenue of $2.1 billion last year, an increase of 28 percent over 2004. The Textron company took orders for 402 aircraft with a current value of $2.8 billion and delivered 105 civil helicopters and 59 military aircraft (including 19 V-22s). It also delivered 18 Huey II kits. The Bell 407 led new civil helicopter deliveries (with 41 shipped), followed by the 206L-4 (22), 412 (17), 206B-3 and 430 (each with 10) and 427 (five). Redenbaugh said he expects to see even greater success this year.
To meet growing demand, Bell hired 3,000 people last year and added more than 300,000 sq ft to the footprint of its facilities, for a total of 5 million sq ft. The expansion includes a new 82,000-sq-ft repair and overhaul center. Redenbaugh said the company is well on the way to doubling its business by 2010, a goal he set in 2004 when revenue was $1.6 billion.
Other Bell 2005 highlights Redenbaugh mentioned were:
• The Bell 429’s order book is at 149, with more sales expected to be announced here at Heli-Expo. First flight of the single-pilot, IFR twin is expected in the third quarter of this year and certification in the second half of next year.
• The 609 tiltrotor’s transition to airplane mode and its flight-envelope expansion to 279 knots and 18,000 feet. First flight of the second 609 is expected in the third quarter by Agusta in Italy. Certification of the civil tiltrotor is now envisioned by “the end of the decade,” said Redenbaugh.
• July 2005 certification of the Bell 210, the improved civil version of the UH-1 Huey. First delivery is expected in May.
• The announcement of the start of the data-gathering phase of customer requirements for an all-new, 21st century medium-twin helicopter.
• The first sale of six civil TR-918 Eagle Eye tiltrotor unmanned aerial systems to Evergreen International Aviation, for surveillance operations. The TR-918 lifted off the ground for the first time last month.
• The award to Bell in July of the $2.2 billion contract by the U.S. Army to build its next-generation ARH. The ARH will replace the Army’s OH-58D helicopter, also produced by Bell. The contract calls for Bell to build 368 aircraft for delivery during fiscal years 2006 through 2013. First flight of the ARH is scheduled for this quarter.