Bell delivers first 429 to launch customer

 - September 30, 2009, 12:35 PM

Following Transport Canada certification and FAA validation of the Bell 429 in July, Bell Helicopter Textron of Fort Worth, Texas, delivered the first aircraft, S/N 57006, to launch customer Air Methods on August 1. The current Bell 429 fleet (two prototypes, three flight test and two customer aircraft) has accumulated more than 2,200 hours.

The Air Methods 429 flew south from Bell’s assembly facility in Mirabel, Quebec, to Mercy Hospital in Des Moines, Iowa, where it is expected to enter service as Mercy One at the end of this year. While in Des Moines, the light twin-turbine helicopter flew demos, participated in a mock EMS pickup and was ceremoniously delivered to the hospital, Neil Marshall, Bell Helicopter program director for the Model 429 and MAPL (modular affordable product line), told AIN. The new Mercy One helicopter then continued on to Air Methods’ facility in Denver for installation of its air medical interior. Meanwhile, training of Air Methods pilots and maintenance personnel at the Bell Training Academy in Fort Worth was pushed back from September to October for the mechanics and to November for the pilots.

The second customer Bell 429 (S/N 57007), which is going to a Japanese air medical operator, was expected to be delivered to Bell affiliate Edwards & Associates last month for installation of its air medical interior. Requests from the air-medical community encouraged Bell to provide the 429 with an open-cabin design, a hinged and a sliding cabin door on each side of the fuselage and optional rear clam-shell doors.

Marshall said Bell is on track to deliver six to eight green 429s this year, though “green” has a different meaning for the model compared with other aircraft. “The 429 is heavily kitted,” he said, explaining that it is delivered with single-pilot IFR approval and 15 popular kits already installed.

The 429 production schedule remains at 40 planned for delivery next year, 80 in 2011 and 96 (representing full-rate production) in 2012. When Bell announced the 429 in February 2005 at Heli-Expo in Anaheim, Calif., the company estimated TC and FAA approvals in the first quarter of 2007 and first deliveries later that same year.

At the time of certification, Bell reported letters of intent (LOIs) for 301 aircraft. It is still in the process of converting these LOIs to purchase agreements, so it is not announcing converted firm orders yet. Holders of LOIs had until mid-September to confirm their orders, but the conversion process takes longer, because after the deadline, Bell marketers go back to buyers who cancelled their late-delivery aircraft and offer them earlier delivery slots. “We need to know the true conversions and slots available,” said Marshall.

Bell typically gets a 95-percent conversion rate for letters of intent, he said, although the current state of economies around the world could harm this rate. With expected deliveries stretching through 2013, Marshall said many customers have not yet indicated a specific mission for their aircraft. So far, 71 Bell 429s are tagged for air medical operations, 49 for utility/offshore and 17 for law enforcement. Bell has grouped the other 164 LOIs as corporate, other or unspecified.

The current list price of the Model 429 is $4.865 million (2007 $). After certification, Bell announced a revised price to customers, but is not revealing this price publicly until the LOI conversion process is complete. While the LOIs are backed by $125,000 refundable deposits, their conversion to firm orders requires customers to add another $125,000 deposit, with the subsequent $250,000 total deposit becoming nonrefundable.

Bell Helicopter showed a 429 (S/N 57002) at the Paris Air Show in June, where it performed in the daily flight display and provided demonstration flights. This “mostly production aircraft” also flew more demos after Paris, including near Mont Blanc (Europe’s highest mountain at 15,781 feet), where it demonstrated takeoffs and landings above 10,000 feet. “We got a lot of positive feedback during and after Paris,” Marshall claimed. The aircraft was then taken out of service in Mirabel to convert it to “true production standard” with the inclusion of design changes and the replacement of some temporary parts that were not approved to the full life limit of production-standard parts. Considered a customer aircraft, 57002 is destined for the Bell Training Academy.

Powered by two Pratt & Whitney Canada PW207D1/D2 Fadec-controlled turboshafts rated for takeoff at 620 shp, the Bell 429 features a new main gearbox with run-dry capability; a new four-blade, rigid, composite main rotor; upgraded 407/427-style composite main rotor hub; four-blade, composite tail rotor; and graphite tail boom and tail-rotor drive shaft. Standard equipment includes dual hydraulics and three-axis autopilot. Dual Rogerson Kratos flat-panel flight displays and two Garmin GNS 430s with Waas capability dominate the cockpit panel. Standard fuel is held in four tanks under the cabin floor.

The long list of kits for the model includes rear fuselage doors; tail-rotor guard; air conditioning and seating options; floats; wheeled landing gear; cargo hook; rescue-hoist searchlight; dual controls; four-axis autopilot; a third Rogerson Kratos display; GNS 530 (with Waas); weather radar; and a 40-gallon auxiliary fuel tank in the cabin.

Under its MAPL initiative, Bell is continuing research into Model 429 derivatives, two of which are flying, Marshall said, hinting at a single-engine model and a larger one. “We need to determine the capabilities of the aircraft and the business case,” he said, adding that the research is split between Mirabel and Fort Worth, with one model flying at each location.