Bell Helicopter Textron of Fort Worth, Texas, delivered the first Bell 429 customer aircraft to launch customer Air Methods on August 1, after which S/N 57006 flew south from Bell’s assembly facility in Mirabel, Quebec, to Mercy Hospital in Des Moines, Iowa.
While in Des Moines, where it is expected to enter service as “Mercy One” at the end of this year, the light, twin-turbine helicopter flew demos, participated in a mock EMS pickup and was ceremoniously delivered to the hospital. The new Mercy One helicopter then continued on to Air Methods’ facility in Denver for installation of its air medical interior. Meanwhile, training of Air Methods pilots and maintenance personnel at the Bell Training Academy in Fort Worth was pushed back from September to October for the mechanics and to November for the pilots.
The second customer Bell 429 (S/N 57007), which is going to an unnamed Japanese air medical operator, was delivered to Bell affiliate Edwards & Associates last month for installation of its air-medical interior. The current Bell 429 fleet (two prototypes, three flight test and one customer aircraft) has accumulated more than 2,200 hours.
The Bell 429 received its Transport Canada certification and FAA validation in July. EASA validation of the model is expected soon. When Bell announced the 429 in February 2005 at Heli-Expo in Anaheim, Calif., the company estimated Transport Canada and FAA approvals in the first quarter of 2007 and first deliveries later that same year.
Neil Marshall, Bell Helicopter program director for the Model 429 and MAPL (modular affordable product line), told NBAA Convention News that Bell is on track to deliver six to eight “green” 429s this year, though “green” has a different meaning for the model compared with other aircraft. “The 429 is heavily kitted,” he said, explaining that it is delivered with single-pilot IFR approval and 15 popular kits already installed.
At the time of the 429’s certification, Bell reported letters of intent (LOIs) for 301 aircraft. It is in the process of converting these LOIs to purchase agreements, so is not announcing converted firm orders yet. Holders of LOIs had until mid-September to confirm their orders, but this conversion process takes time, Marshall said, because after the deadline, Bell marketers go back to buyers who cancelled their late-delivery aircraft and offer them earlier delivery slots. The 429 production schedule remains at 40 planned for delivery next year, 80 in 2011 and 96 (representing full-rate production) in 2012.
“We are continuing to work with our customers and should have a firm contract number in a couple of months,” said Marshall. Bell typically gets a 95-percent conversion rate for letters of intent, he said, although the current state of economies around the world could negatively affect this rate. With expected deliveries stretching through 2013, Marshall said many customers have not yet indicated a specific mission for their aircraft. So far, 71 Bell 429s are tagged for air medical operations, 49 for utility/offshore and 17 for law enforcement. Bell has grouped the other 164 LOIs as corporate, other or unspecified.
The current list price of the Model 429 is $4.865 million (2007 $). After certification, Bell announced a revised price to customers, but does not plan
to reveal the public price until the LOI conversion process is complete. While the LOIs are backed by $125,000 refundable deposits, their conversion to firm orders requires customers to add another $125,000 deposit, with the subsequent $250,000 total deposit becoming nonrefundable.
In addition to its wide-open cabin (aluminum substructure with graphite skins), the Bell 429 sports one hinged and one integrated sliding graphite cabin door on each side of the fuselage (providing openings almost five feet wide); two Pratt & Whitney Canada PW207D1/D2 Fadec-controlled, turboshaft engines rated for takeoff at 620 shp; new main gearbox with run-dry capability; a new four-blade, rigid, composite main rotor; upgraded 407/427-style composite main rotor hub; four-blade, composite tail rotor; graphite tail boom and tail rotor drive shaft; dual hydraulics; three-axis autopilot; Rogerson Kratos flat-panel flight displays; and two Garmin GNS 430 navigators with WAAS capability. Standard fuel is held in four tanks under the cabin floor.
The long list of kits includes rear fuselage doors; tail rotor guard; air-conditioning and seating options; floats; wheeled landing gear; cargo hook; rescue hoist search light; dual controls; four-axis autopilot; a third Rogerson Kratos display; GNS 530 (with WAAS); weather radar; and a 40-gallon auxiliary fuel tank in the cabin.
Under its MAPL initiative, Bell is continuing research into Model 429 derivatives, two of which are flying, Marshall said, hinting at a single-engine model and a larger one. “We need to determine the capabilities of the aircraft and the business case,” he said, adding that the research is split between Mirabel and Fort Worth, with one model flying at each location.