“Why don’t my Bell colleagues take this question?” AgustaWestland CEO Giuseppe Orsi suggested when asked why Bell would not accept his company’s additional money into the protracted BA609 Tiltrotor program, during a press conference on Wednesday here at the Paris Air Show. The innovative hybrid aircraft, which performs daily in the flying display, has its certification now pegged for late 2010 or even early 2011, but Orsi promised development has been accelerated and is now moving forward at full speed.
To be seen in the coming months is whether Bell and Agusta will agree on a further increase in the latter’s role in the joint venture. This may lead to a real acceleration in the program’s pace. “The pace of development has been related to the level of funding,” Orsi explained. Aviation International News understands that Bell has been slow, if not reluctant, to speed up the BA609’s development because its focus is still on the military Bell Boeing V-22 Osprey’s teething troubles.
“We have to discuss our investment in private, as good partners,” Orsi continued. Bell officials at the press conference would not comment. AgustaWestland has long been pushing for an expanded role in the venture. Two years ago, the Italian-based firm increased its stake from 25 to 40 percent in Bell/Agusta Aerospace.
Orsi insisted Bell/Agusta is now committed to the 2010/2011 deadline–although it was still referring to 2009 one year ago. “By the next Paris Air Show, we will release the full final specifications and by the Paris Air Show in 2011, we will have a customer BA609 on the static display here,” he pledged. Nevertheless, Orsi has his sights set on the 2025 market, “when customers will not want to cope with helicopter limitations any longer.” He sees the BA609 as a first step in that direction.
Two BA609s have now logged a combined 200 flight hours. This figure rises slowly because in-depth checks are performed after every flight. One prototype is flying at Forth Worth, Texas, and the other near Milan, Italy. They have reached speeds of 310 knots in forward flight and 35 knots rearward. A third aircraft is slated to join them early next year.
Bell/Agusta claims to have received “around 70” orders from “about 40” customers in “more than 20” countries. Orsi believes new customers will show up after having seen the aircraft flying. The BA609 here is making its first appearance at a major air show.