Work continues on the Bell/Agusta Aerospace BA609 civil tiltrotor program, with more than 100 people dedicated by both Bell Helicopter and AgustaWestland to ongoing flight test and certification tasks. FAA certification is now planned for 2012, according to a Bell spokesman, and the two flight test BA609s–one based at Bell facilities in Texas and one at AgustaWestland in Italy–have logged more than 400 hours. Two additional test BA609s are under construction and should enter the flight test program in 2010, the spokesman said.
Typically, early flight testing doesn’t earn a manufacturer credit for tests specifically targeted at meeting certification objectives. In the BA609’s case, the spokesman said, “We are currently conducting developmental flight tests to clear the expected flight envelope, to be followed by certification testing, but the development testing will provide some of the data used for certification.” He was unable to say how many or what percentage of the 400 hours flown thus far will count toward certification requirements.
In the flight testing, he added, “We have flown over 400 flight hours and hit the corners of the projected flight envelope including speeds over 300 knots; altitudes up 25,000 feet; pulling over 3 g; and demonstrating very good hover, low-speed and high-speed handling qualities.”
There are about 80 orders for BA609s, and Bell/Agusta Aerospace is still putting money into the BA609 program at a steady pace, with no reduction due to the recession, according to the spokesman.
Basic specifications for the BA609 have not changed and include seating for six to nine passengers, 750-nm maximum range (no reserve) or with aux tanks 1,000 nm, 275-knot maximum cruise speed and 16,800 mtow. Two Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6-67As power the tiltrotor BA609. Hover-in-ground-effect (ISA, mtow) is 5,000 feet, and one-engine inoperative service ceiling is 12,800 feet.
In late 2007 the Bell/Agusta Aerospace joint venture officially applied for an FAA type certificate. The FAA released a draft certification basis for the BA609 last year and concurrent FAA and EASA certification is being pursued. The BA609 represents the first new category aircraft, called “powered lift,” to apply for FAA certification since civil certified helicopters were introduced in 1946. “The 609 will be certified to transport category requirements. It requires a combination of rotary-wing and fixed-wing rules that have been agreed to with the FAA,” said the spokesman.