In what was probably the loudest, most athletic and most well-attended unveiling of a helicopter at a Heli-Expo, Bell Helicopter took the wraps off its newest offering–the Bell 417–yesterday morning. How loud was it? Loud enough for onlookers to feel the pounding in the floor from the live band’s kettle drums and to cause nearby Sikorsky to delay its own planned event by more than 20 minutes.
But perhaps the most distinctive feature of Bell’s show-floor extravaganza was the three muscular and lightly clad Cirque acrobats from Canada, two men and one woman, who descended from the ceiling above Bell’s exhibit on long, billowing curtains. They performed as only Cirque du Soleil acrobats can in front of an audience that stretched across the exhibit floor like the infield crowd at a Super Bowl halftime.
After their performance, Bell Helicopter CEO Mike Redenbaugh answered the “what’s the connection” question before anyone could ask. “Cirque’s aerial display is symbolic of what this business is all about: strength, power and agility,” he said, and then explained how the Bell 417 represented these qualities.
“The Bell 417 is our answer to the customers’ demand for a powerful single-engine helicopter with unmatched hot-and-high hover capability. We have used the voice of the customer to drive many of the decisions we have made on the Bell 417 from concept definition to development.”
After the roar of the unveiling subsided, John Ricciardelli, Bell executive director of commercial programs, explained to HAI Convention News that the 417, a derivative of the 407, is the base platform for Bell’s armed reconnaissance helicopter (ARH) entry but that Bell designed the civil 417 first.
“We had envisioned the 417 design before the Army came out with the ARH requirements,” he said. A key feature of the new model is the Honeywell HTS900
turboshaft engine that will power both the 417 and ARH. (The Bell 407 is powered by a Rolls-Royce 250-C47B.)
Honeywell has invested heavily in improving the LTS101, the engine from which the HTS900 evolved, since the company acquired the LTS101 from Lycoming, according to Doug Kult, Honeywell sales director for light utility/attack helicopters. Both the unplanned-engine-repair and in-flight-shutdown rates have improved four-fold and direct maintenance costs per shaft horsepower have been cut in half.
Additional HTS900 improvements are planned for the 417 and ARH, including a shift from an axial compressor to a dual-centrifugal compressor. Kult said technologies from the T800 engine for the canceled Boeing-Sikorsky RAH-66 Comanche helicopter and other Honeywell engines have been or will be incorporated into the design of the HTS900, including a new FADEC with dual electronic controls. The entry-into-service TBO is expected to be 3,000 hours; an increase to 5,000 hours for the mature engine is Honeywell’s goal.
Another key feature of the 417 is its integrated Chelton avionics system. Two six- by eight-inch screens placed vertically are displayed in the 417 mockup here at Heli-Expo. Ricciardelli said these are slightly larger than the Chelton screens STC’d for the 407. Avionics will include a dual VHF com, GPS/WAAS, AD/AHRs, transponder and ICS audio panel.
The tail rotor and main rotor systems on the 417 mockup are the same as those on the 407, but Ricciardelli said Bell is considering incorporating a derivative of the 430’s main rotor system for the 417. This rotor, he said, “could be slowed down a bit to reduce noise.” An improved “bubble cockpit” provides greater headroom for the pilots.
Projected 417 performance specifications include engine takeoff power (installed) of 925 shp at sea level (59 degrees F) and 730 shp at 4,000 feet (95 degrees F). Max takeoff weight is a planned 5,500 pounds, about 250 pounds heavier than the 407’s. Hover out of ground effect is expected to be maintained at this weight up to 5,000 feet. Vne is estimated at 140 knots and useful load at 2,667 pounds.
Ricciardelli explained that Bell selects different mission interiors to display at shows. This year, for example, it’s showing a utility interior in the 429, while last year, when it introduced this model, Bell showed it with an executive interior. So one should not infer from the 417 mockup’s law enforcement interior on display here that this is the only, or even the primary, market that Bell is targeting for the 417. Corporate, emergency medical and utility roles are also envisioned.
Specific features shown on the law enforcement demonstrator are an aft-mounted Spectrolab searchlight and a nose-mounted FLIR, with the controls for both and the screen for the FLIR mounted in the cabin. The cabin contains a three-seat forward bench and two aft mounted seats. All seats, including the two in the cockpit, are covered in black leather.
The prototype 417 is expected to fly in April and certification is anticipated for early 2008. Customer deliveries of the 417 are slated for 2008, while the first ARHs would go to the Army in the fourth quarter of next year, pending the model’s successful opeval. Base price of the 417 is $2.11 million (2008 $). Ricciardelli said Bell has oversold its initial offering of 50 letters of intent and expects to announce more about these orders here.
Both the 417 and ARH will be assembled at Bell’s factory in Mirabel, Quebec. The civil version will then be flown to a customer-selected completion center for the interior and other goodies, while the ARH will be flown to Bell’s Fort Worth facility for installation of mission equipment.