Singapore Air Show

BA609 certification effort shifts into a higher gear

 - February 20, 2008, 2:41 AM

Bell/Agusta Aerospace engineers working on the BA609 Tiltrotor have stepped up their certification efforts and now plan more than 100 hours of flight testing this year–a major acceleration over the 300 hours logged since 2003. However, the first flight of the third prototype faces yet another delay. Bell/Agusta now expects certification of the hybrid helicopter/airplane design in three years.

“We have already explored the entire flight envelope and were very happy with the results,” a Bell/Agusta executive told AIN here at the show. The company will now be doing “point by point, all the tests that have been requested by the airworthiness authorities.” Meanwhile, Bell/Agusta, the FAA and EASA meet regularly. “Keep in mind that our ‘powered-lift aircraft’ category will be the first new aircraft category for certification since the helicopter in 1947,” the executive pointed out.

The two prototypes–one in Fort Worth, Texas, and one near Milan, Italy–have logged a total 300 flight hours. The program has also accumulated some 250 ground test hours.   

The third prototype–long expected to fly early this year, will likely not fly for the first time until early next year–a shift that will not result in a delay to the program, the executive insisted.

“We have not missed a single flight [for technical reasons] for two months,” he said. The program has overcome the challenge posed by the distance between Texas and Italy, according to the manufacturer, as the two telemetry teams talk to each other permanently.

Some 90 Bell and 20 Agusta engineers work in Fort Worth. With reverse numbers in Italy, the total number of engineers working on BA609 flight tests has increased to approximately 220. Three dedicated test pilots reside in the U.S. In Italy, the program achieves a full-time equivalent of three by employing two dedicated test pilots and another two who also fly other test aircraft.

Watch AIN’s Mark Phelps flying the BA609 Tiltrotor’s simulator here on Stand No. S69 at the Singapore Airshow by logging on to www.AINtv.com.