Later this year Bell Helicopter will deliver its last JetRanger, a 206B3. According to a company spokeswoman, Bell decided “to stop production on the 206B JetRanger in the first quarter in response to shifting market demands.” Bell will continue to manufacture the stretched version of the helicopter, the LongRanger 206L4.
According to Bell, approximately 8,400 helicopters have been produced in a variety of configurations based on the 206 model. Configurations produced include the 206A/206B (4,491 aircraft), the OH-58 Kiowa (2,275) built for the U.S. Army, and the TH-57 and TH-67 training helicopters (453) built for U.S. and foreign militaries. Approximately 1,000 aircraft were co-produced through industry partnerships. All variants combined, the 206 fleet has flown more than 37 million hours. The high-time 206 has flown more than 38,000 hours.
Although 206 production is coming to an end, Bell “is fully committed to supporting its out-of-production aircraft in terms of parts and technical support,” said the spokeswoman.
She added that Bell “has already engaged industry in the product development process to support this venerable aircraft now and in the future.”
However, the company did not provide any information on its initiative, announced at Heli-Expo 2010, to offer an RR500 engine retrofit for the 206.
Bell began working on what would become the JetRanger in 1960, when it was competing for an Army contract to provide 4,000 light scout/attack helicopters for the Vietnam War (Bell lost that contract to the Hughes OH-6/Model 500). In 1966, Bell began offering the market a civilian variant of its would-be military helicopter, called it the JetRanger and hung a price tag of $89,000 on it. Customer deliveries began in 1967. Over the years, Bell has made numerous improvements to the helicopter. The biggest came in 1977 with the advent of the JetRanger III, or Model 206B3, which featured more power. The addition of the Rolls-Royce 250-20J boosted maximum takeoff shaft horsepower by almost 25 percent, to 420 shp. New models can come equipped with Chelton EFIS glass-panel avionics and Garmin GNS 530 GPS/navcom radios. The JetRanger has the lowest overall accident rate of any single-engine aircraft–fixed or rotary wing.