AgustaWestland is buying out Bell’s stake in the BA609 civil tiltrotor program from Bell Helicopters. Financial terms of the deal, announced by AgustaWestland’s new CEO Bruno Spagnolini and Bell CEO John Garrison here at the Paris Air Show yesterday, were not disclosed.
Under the proposed agreement, subject to regulatory approval, Bell will continue to provide engineering, program management services and key component manufacture on what will now be known as the AW609. Garrison stressed that the agreement does not include any technology transfer from the military Bell/Boeing V-22 Osprey tiltrotor. He said Bell will continue to invest in that technology with the goal of entering the V-22 in the Pentagon’s anticipated joint multirole (JMR) helicopter program.
Announced 15 years ago in 1996, the 609 program was originally a partnership between Boeing and Bell. At that time, the six- to nine-passenger 609 was priced at $8 million; however, the current unit cost is believed to be approaching $30 million. After Boeing withdrew from the program, Bell and Agusta formed the Bell/Agusta Aircraft Co. in 1998 to develop the 609 as a joint venture.
The first 609 prototype flew in 2003 and a second joined the program in 2007. Through the first quarter of this year, the pair had accumulated nearly 600 flight test hours. At one point in the protracted program, the aircraft had attracted 80 orders but it is unclear how many of these are still in effect.
Talking to AIN, Garrison hinted that the resource demands of Bell’s other programs drove it to divest itself of the BA609. “This decision,” he said, “is going to allow Bell to increase our investment on the revolutionary V-22 and to develop the next-generation tiltrotor technologies for U.S. Department of Defense programs and other applications, as well as to increase our investment in our innovative commercial product line.”
The twin P&WC PT6-67A-powered 609 has a maximum takeoff weight of
16,800 pounds, and preliminary flight test data indicates the aircraft has an unrefueled range of 700 nm (boosted to 950 nm with auxiliary fuel tanks), a cruise speed of 275 knots (maximum forward speed 310 knots) and a service ceiling of 25,000 feet. In utility configuration it could carry up to 12 passengers and crew.