Bell Helicopter recently unveiled a version of the 429 light twin with wheeled landing gear and plans to begin deliveries in the first half of next year. The $6.17 million Bell 429WLG has a top speed of 152 knots, about five knots faster than the $5.8 million standard skidded variant. Although the retractable gear and fairings add approximately 250 pounds to empty weight, the drag reduction takes the 429WLG’s range to 412 nm, an increase of 1 nm.
The manufacturer expects the wheeled variant to boost the type’s appeal to corporate and VIP customers who need to taxi or maneuver in tight spaces on the ground. Lead customer Rio Iruya plans to use the 429WLG in this capacity in Brazil. “We have listened to several customers who have needed the maneuverability of this option for their missions,” said Danny Maldonado, Bell executive vice president of sales and marketing. Rio Iruya CEO Sebastian Eskenazi said his company plan to operate the helicopter extensively in crowded airport environments in and around Buenos Aires.
Certified in 2009, the 429 was developed by Bell in cooperation with Korea Aerospace Industries. It features a 204-cu-ft cabin (passengers and baggage compartment) and optional rear clamshell doors, and is certified for single-pilot IFR Category A operations. The 429 has been at the epicenter of the move to revise FAA Part 27 and 29 certification standards for helicopters, as Bell has successfully pursued foreign certification exemption approvals for operations up to 7,500 pounds, 500 pounds more than the maximum allowed under FAR Part 27, the standard to which it is certified. The FAA has repeatedly rejected Bell’s attempt to gain a Part 27 weight exemption in the U.S., limiting the helicopter’s usefulness for IFR EMS operations in certain locales, mainly due to range considerations. However, the controversy did prompt the FAA to begin the process of reviewing Part 27 and Part 29 certification standards for future designs.