Pilot Report: Bell 429

 - June 30, 2009, 11:59 AM

By the time you read this, it is likely that Bell Helicopter will have received Transport Canada type certification for its twin-turbine Bell 429 light helicopter. Though not quite as likely, the FAA might also have validated Transport Canada’s TC, since the U.S. agency has been following the process closely. The European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) is expected to add its own validation a few weeks later, after EASA pilots do their own certification flight testing.

Anticipating the imminence of type certification, Bell Helicopter invited four aviation journalists to its assembly facility in Mirabel, Quebec, in May for Bell 429 briefings and demonstration flights. The flights took place in Bell 429 S/N 57002 (C-FTNB), which the company brought to the Paris Air Show last month to fly in the daily flight display and provide more demonstration flights. This “mostly production aircraft” will eventually be sold to a customer.

The 429’s flight-test program has accumulated more than 1,800 hours using two prototypes and three pre-production aircraft since the first prototype flew on Feb. 27, 2006. When Bell announced the 429 in February 2005 at Heli-Expo in Anaheim, Calif., the company estimated it would receive Transport Canada and FAA certification in the first quarter of 2007 and begin first deliveries later that year. As Neil Marshall, Bell Helicopter program director for the Model 429 and MAPL (modular affordable product line), explained, “The delayed certification of the 429 has been a talking point for the last year or so. We wanted to hit the mark with this aircraft–to under-promise and over-deliver– and I think the only area we missed was the schedule. It has taken a bit longer than expected.”

By the end of this year, Bell expects to deliver eight to ten 429s and have three or four in customer service. The first aircraft will be going to U.S. airmed operator Air Methods, which will fly the helicopter for an undisclosed hospital. Ramping up to a full production rate of 96 in 2012, Bell is planning some 40 deliveries next year and 70 to 80 in 2011, Marshall said.

See Pilot Report Bell 429 PDF