As spring flooded north along America’s Atlantic seaboard, news from the tiltrotor front began to improve somewhat. The mandated modification work on the U.S. Marines’ Osprey fleet was proceeding, closing in on a resumption of flight tests expected to happen this month. Critics of the embattled Bell Boeing program seem to have adopted a wait-and-see attitude.
Work on the first Bell/Agusta Aerospace BA609 civil tiltrotor prototype, while slowed, is proceeding toward a first flight later this summer. After this milestone the program would be shelved as the planned two-year reevaluation of the Osprey runs its course. However, it’s just this sort of linkage between the programs that irks senior management in both companies. Sources within the civil tiltrotor program, a shared effort between Bell and Agusta with Bell taking the lion’s share lead, are sensitive to charges of linkage between the military and civil programs. “The military MV-22 is a whole order of magnitude ahead of the BA609 in terms of complexity and sophistication,” said a source within Agusta management last week, anxious to put distance between the civil and military programs. “The BA609 is more closely related to the original XV-15 testbed aircraft in terms of systems, and those systems have been flown more than 4,000 flight hours. Bell has always been committed to the idea that the MV-22 would precede the civil tiltrotor into the market. That’s why we prefer to think of the BA609 as merely delayed rather than canceled.”