Under a memorandum of agreement (MoA) between Bell Helicopter and Korean Aerospace Industries (KAI) signed yesterday, the latter is to begin production of airframes for the Bell 429 light twin IFR helicopter. With an estimated value of more than $150 million, the agreement is projected to cover all Bell 429 airframes for the next 10 years.
Since the announcement of the Model 429 helicopter and a co-development agreement among Bell, KAI and Mitsui Bussan Aerospace Co. signed during Heli-Expo 2005, the Bell-KAI team has been developing the design. This is leading to the first production flight in February 2007, with delivery to the first customer expected during the fourth quarter of that year.
To date the 429 has attracted more than 150 orders, leading Bell and KAI to make plans to double the production capacity to meet demand. As well as being the sole source for the airframe, KAI has the right to sell and assemble 429 helicopters for the Korea and China markets.
The new model has superseded the Bell 427 VFR model for which relatively few sales were achieved. Indeed, although an IFR version of the 427 was developed, as soon as the 429 was announced all the customers that had signed for the former, switched to the new model. No doubt the fact that the 429 offers the volume of an intermediate-size aircraft with the operating costs of the light twin accounts for its quick success in the market.
Among the 429’s characteristics that are attracting orders is the flat floor and open cabin that optimizes mission flexibility. Fitted with integrated sliding doors and optional clamshell doors, the 429 provides an excellent platform for emergency medical roles for which it can carry two patients and two attendants.
However, an armed scout helicopter development of the 429 promises to stimulate interest in defense markets, incorporating as it does a basic target acquisition sensor suite, plus a number of weapons options. Although this model can be supplied with the standard skids, it can be fitted with an optional wheeled landing gear.
As the show opened, Bell announced an order for six 429s from Hawker Pacific, which also signed for six 407 light singles, while Jubilant Enpro, the Bell independent representative in India, signed an option for six unspecified light helicopters.