Bell Helicopter (Chalet L3-7) here in a press conference yesterday strongly hinted the company is about to transfer more work to partner AgustaWestland in the protracted BA609 Tiltrotor program. “We are looking for the most efficient way to get the aircraft certified and we’ll possibly find some efficiencies in Italy,” Mike Blake, executive v-p for customer solutions, said. While one test aircraft resides
in Texas and another in Italy, Bell has earmarked the next two for Europe. Bell’s and AgustaWestland’s respective shares in the program are believed to be 60/40, despite conflicting numbers given by the two companies.
It seems Bell/Agusta Aerospace delays the BA609 program by one year every year.
This year, it has postponed its certification target from “2010/2011,” as announced in June 2007, to “2011/early 2012,” according to a new development schedule released by AgustaWestland. Blake only referred to 2011, an “unchanged” schedule. Last year at the Paris Airshow, CEO Giuseppe Orsi had even pledged to exhibit a customer-delivered aircraft at the 2011 event. A BA609 is performing daily flying displays here in Farnborough.
The number of flight hours performed in the flight-test program has remained practically static for five months, at about 300 hours. One BA609 flies from Bell’s test facilities in Arlington, Texas, while a second test aircraft flies from Cameri, an Italian air force base near Milan. Test pilots have explored the flight envelope to 25,000 feet and 310 knots.
In February this year, at the Singapore air show, a Bell/Agusta executive issued AIN a bullish update on the program, saying it would add some 100 flight test hours this year. He also claimed a combined 220 engineers work in the program in Italy and the U.S. In 2007, the FAA froze the airworthiness certification basis of the 12-passenger aircraft. The BA609’s first flight occurred in 2003.
Despite the delay, Bell/Agusta is here to confirm plans for a search-and-rescue variant of the BA609. Thanks to its 275-knot speed, the BA609 would reduce typical helicopter mission time by 44 percent. At more than 300 nautical miles from the coast, a BA609 could recover up to six people with its hoist.