The second Bell 429 took to the skies on August 31, five months after the first test ship flew last winter. It is one of five that will eventually complete a test program that is expected to amass 1,500 hours in the air before the helicopter’s planned certification and initial customer deliveries next year.
Bell currently holds orders for more than 200 of the 7,000-pound-mtow, $4.86 million (single-pilot, IFR-equipped) 429. Aeromedical services provider Air Methods–the launch customer–is also the largest customer for the 429, with orders for 25 and options for 10 more. The 429 will be available in medevac, law enforcement, utility and executive configurations with either skids or retractable-wheel landing gear. In high-density medevac configurations, the 429 can be fitted with two medical litters and four attendant seats; in utility configuration there are seats for a single pilot and up to seven passengers.
Optional aft clamshell doors are available for medevac-configured models to facilitate the loading and unloading of litters. The 429’s 200-cu-ft, flat-floor cabin is significantly larger than its sibling 427’s.
The two ships currently in the test fleet are scheduled to complete hot-and-high testing in Colorado and Arizona this month. Bill Stromberg, executive director of the 429 program, said flight testing is currently running about a month ahead of the original schedule. He added that the 429 is very close to “final configuration” and that preparation of manuals, spare parts inventories, customer flight and maintenance training courses and construction of 429 flight training devices is well under way.
Bell announced the 429 in 2005 after scrapping plans to build an upgraded variant of the 427, the Model 427i. The 429 uses new technologies developed for Bell’s Modular Affordable Product Line (MAPL) of next-generation helicopters. They include advanced composite main rotor blade design with swept tips for noise reduction, a quieter “X” tail rotor, an integrated glass cockpit avionics system with optional single-pilot IFR capability and a Safran stability control and augmentation system (SCAS). The SCAS senses changes in the helicopter’s direction and load and automatically restores aircraft control parameters. The standard avionics package includes a Garmin GNS 430 GPS/navcom with WAAS capability (Model 530 optional) and a fully coupled three-axis autopilot (four-axis optional). The aircraft can be equipped with an optional, articulated hoist.
Engine power on the 429 comes from a pair of single-channel FADEC-equipped Pratt & Whitney Canada PW207D turboshafts producing 625 shp each. The 429 has a maximum internal useful load of 2,700 pounds, a maximum forward speed of 147 knots (wheels)/142 knots (skids), and a maximum range/endurance of 350 nm/2.25 hours. The 429 can hover in ground effect up to 12,000 feet (ISA).
Bell is partnering on the 429 with Korea Aerospace and Japan’s Mitsui Bussan Aerospace. Korea Aerospace invested $26 million in the 429’s development program and will be the sole-source supplier of its airframe, wiring and fuel systems. Under the terms of the 10-year, $150 million deal, Korea Aerospace will also be able to sell and assemble the 429 for the Chinese and Korean markets. Bell will assemble the helicopter at its Mirabel, Quebec plant.