Bell Helicopter has a contract to supply 45 Eagle Eye unmanned tiltrotors to the U.S. Coast Guard beginning in 2007 but with its own funds is already building what it calls a “risk-reduction prototype” and plans to have it flying by this fall. A full-scale mockup of the Eagle Eye is on static display on the ramp side of Bell’s Paris Air Show chalet (A378).
Douglas Wolfe, business development manager for unmanned programs at Bell, said ground runs of the aircraft, which is powered by a single Pratt & Whitney Canada PW200/55 turboshaft engine, are expected to begin next month at Dempsey Field near Bell’s Fort Worth, Texas headquarters. Flight testing to expand the envelope will continue through next year.
The Coast Guard’s performance criteria for the unmanned air vehicle specified an automatic takeoff from a Coast Guard cutter, a 110-nm flight, three hours of loiter time on station, the 100-nm return flight and an automatic landing. Jon Rudy, Bell’s unmanned programs director, said preliminary performance numbers for the Eagle Eye include automatic hover capability, a 200-knot cruise speed in airplane mode, a 20,000-foot maximum altitude and up to six hours of endurance. It can carry a 300-pound payload and has a total useful load of more than 1,000 pounds.
Rudy said several military and government agencies are considering the Eagle Eye and that he expects the U.S. Marine Corps will be the next major customer. Motivated by a French requirement for an unmanned vertical takeoff aircraft, Bell has formed European Team Eagle Eye with Sagem as the European prime. He said officials from Italy, Greece, Spain and Germany have also shown interest in the craft. An armed Eagle Eye is also a possibility.
With the first Coast Guard deliveries not due until 2007 and to stretch to 2020, Bell could conceivably deliver Eagle Eyes to other customers before this, said Rudy.