ABACE Convention News

Bell Prepares 505 Jet Ranger X Light-Single Helicopter Contender

 - April 11, 2014, 10:45 AM
Bell Helicopter’s Jet Ranger X marks the company’s return to the light single market. Carrying a price tag of around $1 million, the Garmin avionics-equipped Model 505 aims to compete with Robinson Helicopter’s R66. (Photos: Barry Ambrose)

Bell Helicopter is stepping up efforts to bring its “short light single” helicopter to market, having formally unveiled the new model as the 505 Jet Ranger X at the Heli-Expo show in Anaheim, California, in February. Here at ABACE, the company is exhibiting with its Chinese distributor Aerochine (Booth P529) and is also promoting its new twin-engine Bell 525.

The U.S. manufacturer has begun taking orders for the Jet Ranger X, but has yet to publicly set a price. However, according to Chuck Evans, Bell director of marketing and sales support for commercial helicopters, the 505 is designed to “be price competitive” with the $839,000 Robinson R66, a helicopter that has reinvigorated the light single market with nearly 500 delivered since its FAA certification in October 2010. Bell exited the light single market that same year, halting production of its iconic 206 Jet Ranger after 43 years and more than 7,500 delivered, but vowing to return.

Those plans have now taken tangible form. The 505 mockups displayed in Anaheim featured an unusual level of detail, fitted in utility, executive/passenger and law-enforcement configurations complete with searchlight and FLIR (forward-looking infrared) camera. A mockup of the utility version closely resembles a prototype aircraft and is fitted with real main rotor blades, transmission, working flight controls and a Turbomeca Arrius 2R engine (457 shp continuous) with dual-channel Fadec.

The 505 also will feature the Garmin G1000H avionics suite. Preliminary data calls for the 505 to have a 61-cu-ft (1.7 cubic meter) flat-floor cabin, a cruising speed of 125 knots, a maximum range of 360 nm (666 km) and a useful load of 1,500 pounds (680 kg). Bell plans to conduct a first flight before the end of the year and to start production in 2015 at a new assembly facility being built in Louisiana. “We will get this aircraft certified as fast as we can,” Evans said, without committing to a specific deadline.

Evans said the utility-configured 505 mockup displayed at the Heli-Expo show “very closely represents the basic aircraft as it is designed today.” People who looked at it, Evans said, “may have thought we already have a flying aircraft constructed.

“Much like the 525 [super-medium Relentless twin], the 505 has been a very collaborative design with our customer advisory council,” Evans said. “They have been involved in this aircraft from the start. They set a pretty high bar for us. They asked for the fully integrated glass cockpit as standard on this model. They also wanted a Fadec-controlled engine for this ship and that is why we chose the Arrius 2R; it has a dual-channel Fadec with backup. Turbomeca had that and the right shaft horsepower for this helicopter. Our customers also wanted a large cabin with all fully forward-facing seats.”

Evans said customers also wanted an affordable aircraft, both in terms of acquisition and full life-cycle costs. To that end, Bell will be offering a new mission-critical support package–an hourly maintenance plan–for the 505 and its other products. Details of the plan “are still coming together,” Evans added.

The 505 and the larger, 19,300-pound (8,755-kg) max gross weight 525 begin a new series of civil sector product offerings from Bell. While the 525 was developed primarily to take advantage of the burgeoning deepwater oil and gas market, Bell envisions many other uses for the helicopter. The 525 mockup shown at Heli-Expo 2014 was painted in a generic international coast-guard livery and outfitted with search-and-rescue equipment including hoists and an EMS interior that Bell developed in cooperation with Air Methods. Bell is continuing to test all the 525 flight instrumentation, fly-by-wire system, flight controls and surfaces and cockpit in its systems integration lab.

“We are flying simulator missions that feed pilot inputs into the fly-by-wire controls, and moving the control systems of the aircraft,” Evans said. When the pilots are flying in the simulator, in the room next to it the swashplates and all the control surfaces are moving.” He said the process matures systems before they are installed in the first flying prototype and also helps build the training syllabus.

Bell still has not begun to take formal orders for the 525 but does “have a lot of interested customers,” Evans said. Nor is Bell prepared to set an official price for the 525, but it is widely assumed to be in the $18 to $25 million range.

At the Heli-Expo show Bell also displayed a 429 light twin with wheeled landing gear, a variant that was recently certified by the FAA. “We are seeing growing interest in that aircraft, mainly from international markets,” Evans said.

The company is continuing to appeal the FAA’s denial of its request for a Part 27 exemption to increase the 429’s maximum allowable gross weight by 500 pounds (227 kg) to 7,500 pounds (3,402 kg). Transport Canada granted initial certification on the 429–it is built at Bell’s plant in Mirabel, Quebec–and it has approved a gross weight exemption for the aircraft as have a growing list of certification authorities in other countries. However, the FAA initially refused, citing the 7,000-pound (3,175-kg) weight limit under Part 27 and the desire to keep design standards harmonized with European standards. Competing manufacturers have repeatedly and vehemently objected to the exemption.