Having established a strong position with the French-German Eurocopter joint venture, avionics maker Thales of Paris is now seeking to achieve greater export sales of its civil helicopter avionics. Gil Michielin, general manager of Thales Helicopter Avionics, explained that unlike the military sector the U.S. civil rotorcraft market is open to competition from foreign companies.
Bell/Agusta Aerospace Company
Bell Helicopter will likely confirm another one-year delay for the civil BA609 Tiltrotor program during a press conference here today, judging by a new development schedule released by program partner AgustaWestland. This year, the company expects a postponement of certification from “2010/2011,” as announced in June 2007, to “2011/early 2012.”
A Bell Helicopter spokesman denied speculation that the company plans to pull the plug on the Bell/Agusta BA609 civil tiltrotor or sell its entire stake in the program to Italian development partner AgustaWestland. Speculation about Bell’s future in the program escalated earlier this week after Bell CEO Richard Millman told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, “We designed the 609 for a new U.S.
Russian aerospace conglomerate Oboronprom has started “large-scale, long-term” cooperation with European manufacturer Agusta- Westland for helicopter distribution, maintenance and production.
The fortunes of the Bell/Agusta BA609 are closely linked to those of the U.S. Marines’ MV-22 Osprey tiltrotor transport, still grounded following a pair of well-publicized fatal accidents and even more sensational charges of records falsification and related wrongdoing by senior Marine program managers.
The third and final pre-production Bell/Agusta AB139 has begun its flight-test program at Agusta’s Vergiate plant in Italy. Under way since prototype one made its maiden flight in February, the AB139 flight-test program, which now numbers three prototypes and a so-called tiedown helicopter (TDH) ground-test item, has logged more than 100 flight hours.
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.
Russian aerospace conglomerate Oboronprom has begun cooperating with European rotorcraft manufacturer Agusta- Westland (Booth No. 7550) in helicopter maintenance, production and distribution–with a 10-aircraft order as a starter.
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.
The crash of one of the flying prototypes of the Bell/Agusta AB139 twin-turbine helicopter in Italy late last month killed a flight-test engineer, when he and the pilot attempted to exit the stricken rotorcraft via parachute, according to unofficial accounts. At press time it wasn’t known if the crash of the 13,288-lb mtow rotorcraft would delay the expected year-end certification of the AB139.