The super-medium Bell Helicopter “Relentless” Model 525, announced at Heli-Expo’12, is not just an ambitious new program, it is a catalyst for changing the culture of the company, said Larry Thimmesch, Bell’s vice president of commercial programs. “There are many new things on this program, not just in terms of product but also in terms of process and cultural change,” he said. The 525 features fly-by-wire flight controls and will be equipped with Garmin’s new G5000H touch-screen-controlled flight deck.
The process and cultural changes include how the aircraft is designed and built. Engineers are drawing the 525 digitally, using Dassault Systemes’ Catia v6 and Enovia software. “This is a paperless aircraft, which is new for us,” said Thimmesch. The new software streamlines the design-build cycle, he said. “This is the first project designing an aircraft in the digital environment with Enovia and Catia v6, which is new in the industry, and other major OEMs are watching us pilot these tools through the program to learn from the process.”
Bell (Booth No. N5612) is not relying solely on virtual data to validate its design. Like many other OEMs, it has system integration labs devoted to the new aircraft. What is different, Thimmesch said, is how early in the process labs were implemented. “We have never had one running this early in a program before and this is all about our focus on learning. The sooner we can learn, the more mature the product will be, and the less change we will have later.”
The company is preparing to start assembly of the first 525 prototype later this year at its facility in Amarillo, Texas. Four more prototypes are expected to join the test program prior to certification in 2015. Both Bell and its suppliers already have begun manufacturing parts for the helicopter, now expected to make its first flight in 2014.