Bell Helicopter has unveiled three refined mock-ups of its new, five-seat “short light single” (SLS) helicopter and officially named the new helicopter the “505 Jet Ranger X.” Bell previewed the SLS concept with an announcement and renderings at the 2013 Paris Air Show.
Bell has begun taking orders for the new helicopter at Heli-Expo, but declined to publicly set a price. However, Chuck Evans, Bell director of marketing and sales support for commercial helicopters, said the 505 is designed to “be price competitive” with the $839,000 Robinson R66, a helicopter that has reinvigorated the light single market with nearly 500 delivered since its FAA certification in October 2010. Bell exited the light single market that same year, halting production of its iconic 206 Jet Ranger after 43 years and more than 7,500 delivered, but vowing to return to the market.
Those plans have now taken tangible form. The 505 mock-ups displayed here (Booth 4536) feature an unusual level of detail and are fitted in utility, executive/passenger and law enforcement configurations complete with searchlight and FLIR (forward-looking infrared) camera.
The utility mock-up closely resembles a prototype aircraft and is fitted with real main rotor blades, transmission, working flight controls and a Turbomeca Arrius 2R engine (457 shp continuous) with dual-channel Fadec. The 505 also will feature the Garmin G1000H flight deck. Preliminary data calls for the 505 to have a 61-cu-ft flat floor cabin, a cruising speed of 125 knots, a maximum range of 360 nm and a useful load of 1,500 pounds. Bell plans first flight before the end of the year and starting production in 2015 at a new assembly facility being built at the Lafayette, La. regional airport. “We will get this aircraft certified as fast as we can,” Evans said, without committing to a specific deadline.
Evans said the utility-configured 505 show mock-up “very closely represents the basic aircraft as it is designed today.” From looking at it, Evans said, “people may think we already have a flying aircraft constructed.
“Much like the 525 [super-medium Relentless twin], the 505 has been a very collaborative design with our customer advisory council,” Evans said. “They have been involved in this aircraft from the start. They set a pretty high bar for us. They asked for the fully-integrated glass cockpit as standard on this model. They also wanted a Fadec-controlled engine for this ship and that is why we chose the Arrius 2R, it has a dual-channel Fadec with backup. Turbomeca had that and the right shaft horsepower for this helicopter. Our customers also wanted a large cabin with all fully-forward facing seats.”
Evans said customers wanted an affordable aircraft, both in terms of acquisition and full life-cycle costs. To that end, Bell will be offering a new mission-critical support package–an hourly maintenance plan–for the 505 and its other products. Details of the plan “are still coming together,” Evans said.
The 505 and the larger, 19,300 pound (max gross weight) 525 begin a new series of civil sector product offerings from Bell. While the 525 was primarily developed to take advantage of the burgeoning deepwater oil and gas market, Bell envisions many other uses for the helicopter. At Heli-Expo 2014, the 525 mockup is painted in a generic international coast guard livery and outfitted with search-and-rescue equipment including hoists and an EMS interior Bell developed in cooperation with Air Methods. Bell is continuing to test all the 525 flight instrumentation, fly-by-wire system, flight controls and surfaces and cockpit in its systems integration lab.
“We are flying simulator missions that feed pilot inputs into the fly-by-wire controls and moving the control systems of the aircraft,” Evans said. When the pilots are flying in the sim, in the room next to it, the swashplates and all the control surfaces are moving.” He said the process matures systems before they are installed in the first flying prototype and also helps build the training syllabus.
Bell still has not begun to take formal orders for the 525 but does “have a lot of interested customers,” Evans said. Nor is Bell prepared to set an official price for the 525, but it is widely assumed to be in the $18 to $25 million range.
Bell is also displaying a 429 light twin with wheeled landing gear, a variant that was recently certified by the FAA. “We are seeing growing interest in that aircraft, mainly from international markets,” Evans said. Bell is continuing to appeal the FAA’s denial of its request for a Part 27 exemption to increase the 429’s maximum allowable gross weight by 500 pounds to 7,500 pounds. Transport Canada granted initial certification on the 429–it is made at Bell’s plant in Mirabel, Quebec–and it has approved a gross weight exemption for the aircraft as have a growing list of certification authorities in other countries. However, the FAA initially refused, citing the 7,000-pound weight limit under Part 27 and the desire to keep design standards harmonized with EASA. Competing manufacturers have repeatedly and vehemently objected to the exemption.