Bell/Agusta remains certain time is right for civil tiltrotor

 - October 7, 2008, 3:16 PM

Bell/Agusta Aerospace Co. is showing a new six-place VIP interior in its BA609 tiltrotor mockup here in the Orange County Convention Center (Booth No. 5519). Featuring leather seats, two beverage consoles, a flat floor and foldaway tables, the tasteful interior brings “the comfort of a corporate jet to an aircraft that can go places where others cannot,” said Don Barbour, Bell/Agusta executive marketing director. The interior was first shown in February at Heli-Expo’08 in Houston. Bell/Agusta is a joint venture of Bell Helicopter, a Textron company based in Fort Worth, Texas, and AgustaWestland, a Finmeccanica company, based in Italy.

“The twin-engine, fly-by-wire 609 has a power-to-weight ratio that is higher than any other vertical-lift aircraft,” said Barbour.  “With full fuel and six 220-pound passengers, you can depart from a riverside heliport in New York, lose one engine right after takeoff while still in hover mode and not get wet. The pilot has enough power to fly away single-engine or land back on the heliport.” Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6C-67A turboshaft engines power the aircraft.

Maximum cruise speed of the BA609 is 275 knots and flight test aircraft have demonstrated 310 knots. Normal cruise will be about 250 knots. The tiltrotor’s service ceiling with both engines operating is 25,000 feet, its one-engine-inoperative ceiling is 12,800 feet and it can hover out of ground effect at max gross weight at 5,000 feet. Cabin pressurization is 5.5 psi, which provides an 8,000-foot cabin at 25,000 feet. The 609’s maximum range with no reserve (dry tanks) is 700 nm; 500 nm is a good planning range with alternates, Barbour said. Max takeoff weight is 16,800 pounds and useful load 5,500 pounds.

Four BA609s will be used in the development and certification flight test program. Two are flying now, one with Bell in Texas and the other with AgustaWestland in Italy. The aircraft have flown 365 hours to date. When completed, Ships 3 and 4 will join the flight test program. Ship 3 will be used for flight-in-icing testing and certification, and Ship 4, a production aircraft without test instrumentation, will do function and reliability flights and ATC interface. Barbour said Ship 4 would likely be sold to a customer. Three more years of flight and certification tests are planned, leading to 2011 as the current time frame for certification.

The date of the first customer delivery has not yet been decided and Barbour said the company is looking to its parents, Bell and AgustaWestland, “to describe the most efficient delivery plan to customers after certification.” Current orders for the BA609 stand at more than 80. Customers have paid refundable deposits of $150,000 to hold a delivery position and will find out the final price of their aircraft 25 months before the expected delivery date. If they don’t want to take the aircraft, they will get the deposit back.

As a powered-lift aircraft, the BA609 will be certified to a new regulation, FAR Part 21.17B, which incorporates elements of Parts 23 and 25 for airplanes, Parts 27 and 29 for rotorcraft and an additional part for the transition window when the proprotors convert from the horizontal position/ helicopter mode to the vertical position/airplane mode. The regulation went through one comment period in January and Barbour said Bell/Agusta expects the FAA to provide another comment period when the regulation is closer to final form.

Responding to speculation over the last year or so that AgustaWestland would like to take on a larger share of the 609 program, Barbour said that the “leaderships of Bell, Textron, AgustaWestland and Finmeccanica are working together to determine the most efficient program to bring the 609 to market. There is no announcement at this time regarding ownership.” This statement is consistent with statements made by AgustaWestland CEO Giuseppe Orsi and Mike Blake, former Bell Helicopter executive v-p for customer solutions, at the Farnborough airshow in July.