Bell 429 Pilots Feel The Power

 - March 5, 2011, 4:10 AM

Bell 429 operators continue to give positive feedback about the new light twin as it enters its second year in service. Bell manufactured more than 30 of the helicopters last year and completed customer kit options. The company continues to develop a version with wheeled landing gear, to remove weight from the 429 both in the manufacturing process and by pursuing regulatory solutions, and it plans to produce more than 80 units by the end of this year.  

Late last year Bell received wide area augmentation system (Waas) approval for the Pratt & Whitney Canada PW207D1-powered twin. The approval allows the 429 to be flown to point-in-space approaches when the cloud ceiling is as low as 250 feet agl, and to conduct steep (nine degrees) localizer precision and vertical guidance (LPV) approaches at a minimum velocity for instrument approaches (Vmini) of 45 knots. The company maintains that the 429 is the only helicopter in its class capable of performing a fully coupled four-axis autopilot LPV approach, a big selling point for EMS customers.

The 429’s IFR capabilities along with its capacious 204 cu ft of interior space (cabin and luggage hold combined) are key attributes, but for a number of customers AIN spoke with, their decision to acquire the 429 came down to power.

“It’s a Corvette,” said Dan Keough of Mercy Medical Services in Des Moines, Iowa, the first 429 EMS operator. “This thing is fast.” Keogh said the 429 shaves 15 minutes off the typical mission that Mercy Medical used to fly in a Eurocopter EC135.

Private pilot and 429 owner Bob Dengler concurred. Dengler used to race Corvettes and Ferraris, but opted to take up helicopter flying at age 66 as a “safer” pursuit. Now age 70, he still drives high-performance cars–off the track. Dengler took delivery of 429 serial number 12 last September after logging 520 hours in a 206L4. His helicopter is on display here at Heli-Expo ’11 in the Bell booth (No. 237).

Dengler first saw the 429 on a visit to the Bell factory in Mirabel, Quebec. “I have a need for speed,” he confessed, adding that he can make the trip from his base near Toronto to his Scottsdale, Ariz. winter home in the 429 in about 12.5 hours–four hours faster than the journey used to take in his LongRanger.

Last year Dengler took the five-day 429 transition course at Bell Fort Worth. It incorporated his multi-engine rating and training for his personal instructor and his mechanics in Scottsdale and Canada.

He said he ordered the 429 with just about every option he could get including supplemental cabin soundproofing, three-axis autopilot and 40-gallon auxiliary fuel tank. One option he passed on was onboard weather radar, which Dengler said destroys the helicopter’s aesthetics. “I didn’t want a clown nose on the front of the aircraft,” he said. Dengler’s 429 does have integrated XM satellite weather.

Not surprisingly, Dengler said that compared to his 206L4 the 429 is smoother, quieter and has plenty of power reserve. “I’ve never come close to pulling full power,” he said, even near the helicopter’s maximum 7,000-pound weight. He called flight controls “sensitive and precise,” said the helicopter has plenty of tail rotor authority and it performs well and is extremely stable in high winds. He compared vertical takeoffs to “going straight up on a bungee cord.”

The helicopter also compares favorably to one of Bell’s previous entries into the light twin market, the 427, according to Marten Sachsse, a Toronto-based corporate pilot who flew one for six years.  He transitioned into the 429 last year after 3.5 days of ground school, five hours in a flight training device and five hours in the actual aircraft. Compared to the 427, Sachsse said, the 429 is a much smoother machine with better power and stability. “There’s no vibration through translation, departing from hover.” Nor are there ride quality changes associated with seasonal temperature variations. With the 427 “we had to do (main rotor) track and balance in the spring and fall,” Sachsse said. “I haven’t seen any of that with this aircraft.”

Sachsse said the 429 “approaches the [Sikorsky] S-76 in terms of ride. It has a nice, substantial feel to it and makes you look like a nice, smooth pilot.”

He praised the clarity of the Rogerson Kratos flat-panel displays under all lighting conditions, the stability of the Sagem autopilot and the 429’s ability to swallow bulky cargo. The machine Sachsse flies is equipped with a five-passenger VIP interior and optional dual-evaporator air conditioning.

Sachsse’s company typically does not fly IFR missions with the helicopter, yet, like Dengler, he sees fuel burns in the 530- to 550-pph range. His only complaint is that because of his six-foot height he sometimes hits his head on the cockpit ceiling when he enters the aircraft due to the position of the wet compass. To date, the helicopter is squawk-free. “Bell has really done a nice job with this machine,” he said.