On Friday, Bell Helicopter’s 429 team froze the final exterior profile of its light twin-engine helicopter after months of development flight testing. Since introducing the Bell 429 GlobalRanger at Heli-Expo 2005, Bell has flown two prototypes for more than 400 hours of flight testing. One aircraft is now in Colorado performing high-altitude testing and the other is in Arizona for high-temperature trials.
The second Bell 429 took to the skies on August 31, five months after the first test ship flew last winter. It is one of five that will eventually complete a test program that is expected to amass 1,500 hours in the air before the helicopter’s planned certification and initial customer deliveries next year.
Bell Helicopter’s commercial division knows as well as anyone about the challenge of making a living in a stagnant industry that appears unlikely to grow beyond generally accepted delivery projections of 400 to 500 helicopters a year. For years the only real avenue to sales growth lay in scratching for more market share–a circumstance unlikely to change in the near future.
Bell is planning to add the second 429 prototype to its flight-test effort next month. The first example of the new light-twin helicopter has already convinced design engineers that they can stay with a four-blade tail rotor.
The Bell 429 has received its production rotor blades. They replace the prototype blades that supported the first flight on February 27. In addition, engineers have loaded new software for the cockpit displays. Bell said the new software is more representative of the production aircraft.
By launching the IFR version of its 427 model at Heli-Expo, in Las Vegas in March, Bell Helicopter finally acknowledged its mistakes in introducing the type in the first place, almost 10 years before.
Bell Helicopter’s MAPL (modular affordable product line) tail-fan demonstrator took to the air at the OEM’s new XworX research center in Arlington, Texas, in July. A Bell 407 fitted with the 40-inch-diameter fenestron-like device lifted into a hover, performed several low-speed maneuvers, including pedal turns, and landed.
After months of dodging questions about the status of the program, Bell Helicopter officials yesterday announced the company has canceled development of the single-engine 417 helicopter, which made its dramatic debut just a year ago at Heli-Expo.
The Bell 429, a new light twin helicopter derived from the Bell 427i, will be dramatically unveiled at an 11:30 a.m. press event today at Bell Helicopter’s booth, No. 1087 in Hall D. Bell announced the 427i, an IFR-capable version of the 427, less than one year ago at Heli-Expo 2004.
While Eurocopter remains the leader in unit sales of civil helicopters, its competitors are honing their products. The company’s management team is well aware of the pressure, as one official recently expressed concern about new competing products from Western manufacturers. He stated that they will soon be as capable as, and less expensive than, Eurocopter’s.