Bell/Agusta Aerospace engineers working on the BA609 Tiltrotor have stepped up their certification efforts, now working with the FAA and the EASA (via Italian authorities) and planning on more than 100 hours of flight testing this year. That goal represents a major acceleration; the company has logged only 300 hours since 2003. However, the first flight of the third prototype has been delayed again.
The third prototype, which had long been expected to fly early this year, is now slated to make its maiden flight early next year, according to a Bell/Agusta executive. This schedule does not delay the program, and the tiltrotor is expected to win certification in early 2011.
The program has suffered several certification delays over the past 10 years, but the executive pointed out that is to be expected with a new design. “Keep in mind that our ‘powered-lift aircraft’ category will be the first new aircraft category for certification since the helicopter in 1947,” he reminded. He emphasized that being a pioneer in a new aircraft category carries uncertainties about how long some certification items will take.
The flight-test program employs approximately 220 engineers, half of them based at Bell’s flight-test center in Fort Worth, Texas, and the other half at AgustaWestland’s facility near Milan, Italy. There are three dedicated test pilots in the U.S. In Italy, the full-time equivalent of three is reached by employing two dedicated test pilots and another two who also fly other test aircraft.
“We had already explored the entire flight envelope and were happy with the results,” a Bell/ Agusta executive told AIN in late February. Engineers are now doing, for a number of speed/altitude combinations in the flight envelope, “all the tests that have been requested by the airworthiness authorities,” he explained.
In addition to the 300 flight hours the two prototypes have logged, Bell/Agusta has also completed some 250 ground test hours. The executive would not predict how many hours will be flown this year, only hinting at a three-digit number. “What is really important is the number of tests you validate,” he noted.
Bell/Agusta has managed to bridge the distance between Texas and Italy. The two telemetry teams are in constant communication with one another. During each flight, some 2,000 parameters are monitored in real time, and then both teams analyze the data.
At the Singapore Airshow, AIN contributor Mark Phelps flew a BA609 Tiltrotor simulator. To see a segment on his session, log on to www.aintv.com.