Flying the Bell 407GX

 - March 30, 2011, 7:35 AM

As we zip over Orlando’s I-4 at 500 feet agl, Bell Helicopter test pilot Randall Parent discusses the helicopter terrain alerting and warning system (HTaws) and the optional helicopter traffic collision avoidance systems (HTcas), which are part of the new Garmin G1000H panel inside the new Bell 407GX. Bell unveiled the helicopter at this year’s Heli-Expo. “For a helicopter pilot, these are the kinds of things that are going to keep you alive,” Parent tells me. Both the HTaws and HTcas are optimized for helicopter operations, with lower detection levels starting at about 200 feet agl. They can be set to five different levels of sensitivity.

You can also use the G1000H to order a pizza. Parent pushes a button on the multifunction display and up pops the AOPA directory for Kissimmee Airport, including restaurants. With the built-in Iridium phone system we can call ahead so it is ready when we land.

But before any potential masticating, there is the small matter of navigating the congested low-altitude late-afternoon skies adjacent to the convention center as we fly into the setting sun.

Four targets pop up on the primary flight display (PFD), overlaid atop the inset moving map in the right-hand lower corner of the screen. We can see only one of them, a Robinson R44 tour helicopter two miles out at our one o’clock and converging. “Traffic, traffic,” warns Mother Garmin.

The other three targets are also within two miles–100 feet, 400 feet and 1,000 feet above, respectively. “If I were trying to get into an airport under Special VFR, I would never see these people,” said Parent.

It is a safe bet they don’t see us either, and my thoughts turn to the 2008 midair of two Bell 407 medevacs over Flagstaff in extreme CAVU and how those helicopters could have benefitted from this.

Mother Garmin interrupts my thoughts. “Obstacle, obstacle,” sounds as we fly low over a Marriott. On the screen the obstacle initially appears yellow, then it grows larger and turns red as we get closer, and the aural warnings from Mother Garmin grow louder and more frequent.

The PFD also contains all the first-limit data and wind direction and velocity, speeding the time required to process autorotation decisions as needed. The synthetic vision “highway in the sky” feature guides you down to an uneventful landing no matter the visibility. Just keep the green dot inside the series of magenta boxes on the PFD.

Emergency checklists can quickly be accessed on the MFD. Parent pops up the list for “engine underspeed.” You can also quickly access weight-and-balance data and fuel calculations, and airport and approach charts.

Initially, Parent, like most G1000 rookies, was a little overwhelmed by the system. But after a week of using it, he became proficient and realized its biggest benefit. The speed and ease in which the information is presented is key. “It lets me spend more time with my scan outside the cockpit,” Parent said.  Bell expects certification of the 407GX in the third quarter of this year. The system increases the helicopter’s base price to $2.795 million, an increase of $150,000 over the current 407. o