While its bigger cousin in the Marines stays grounded, work on the civil tiltrotor is proceeding in the same Bell Helicopter hangars from which the first prototype V-22 Ospreys rolled out some 13 years ago in Arlington, Texas.
As spring flooded north along America’s Atlantic seaboard, news from the tiltrotor front began to improve somewhat. The mandated modification work on the U.S. Marines’ Osprey fleet was proceeding, closing in on a resumption of flight tests expected to happen this month. Critics of the embattled Bell Boeing program seem to have adopted a wait-and-see attitude.
Australia-based Skytraders has been selected to fly between Australia and Antarctica and for internal Antarctic flights, starting late next year, for the Australian government’s Antarctic division.
Stating that “the V-22 must lead tiltrotor technology into the marketplace,” Bell Helicopter has opted to shelve its BA609 civil tiltrotor following first flight of a prototype later this year, indefinitely delaying introduction of the world’s first production-oriented civil tiltrotor until problems with the U.S. Marines’ V-22 Osprey tiltrotor transport can be ironed out.
Bell Helicopter Textron last month announced plans to lay off 270 workers at its Fort Worth-area plants. The job cuts will affect both union-represented hourly workers and salaried employees. A spokesman for the rotorcraft builder said further cutbacks were possible as the company reevaluated its position in the slumping world helicopter market and as the effects of investigations and slowdowns in the U.S.
A pair of Bell Boeing MV-22 tiltrotor transports have joined the remedial developmental flight-test program that’s hoped to get the cause of tiltrotor operations back on track following a series of fatal accidents and scandalous revelations concerning performance coverups by high-ranking Marine officers. The two new aircraft are part of a gradual ramp-up to a total of seven Ospreys serving the flight-test program now under way at the U.S.
Bell Helicopter chairman and chief executive John Murphey is in the sort of corporate hotseat many top executives yearn for: command of a major corporation at the precise moment that corporation is in, if not the fight of its life, certainly some very tough times indeed.
Bell/Agusta Aerospace engineers working on the BA609 Tiltrotor have stepped up their certification efforts, now working with the FAA and the EASA (via Italian authorities) and planning on more than 100 hours of flight testing this year. That goal represents a major acceleration; the company has logged only 300 hours since 2003. However, the first flight of the third prototype has been delayed again.
The European Commission (EC) has ordered Italy to ensure immediate reimbursement of E170 million ($250 million) worth of “illegal” loans that had been allotted to various aerospace programs, including AgustaWestland for the A109 and A119 and Alenia-made Falcon 2000 business jet subassemblies. In addition, Italy must ask Avio to repay a loan for its contribution to the Pratt & Whitney Canada PW308 business jet engine.
Mike Redenbaugh took over the CEO’s office at Bell Helicopter’s Fort Worth, Texas headquarters in May and now faces some formidable challenges–including getting the military V-22 tiltrotor program on track and completing certification of the BA609 civil tiltrotor in cooperation with partner Agusta Aerospace of Italy.