The Bell/Agusta BA609 civil tiltrotor program is moving forward, according to a Bell spokesman, with two more flight-test ships scheduled to join the two already flying over the next 18 months. However, there are some indications that the program, now into its 10th year, is beginning to falter.
Bell/Agusta Aerospace Company
At the Farnborough Air Show last month, helicopter manufacturer AgustaWestland unveiled its new Agusta A109S Grand, a medium twin-engine rotorcraft designed to fill the gap between the Agusta A109 Power and the Bell/Agusta AB139, now entering service. The helicopter is expected to receive certification early next year, with deliveries to begin in the second half of the year.
In May, the second prototype of the Bell/Agusta BA609 tiltrotor flew for the first time in public. The aircraft participated in the flying display at the Giornata Azzurra 2007 airshow in Pratica di Mare, near Rome, on May 27. The first prototype had in the past been displayed in a flight to the media in Fort Worth, Texas. The BA609 also performed at the Paris Air Show last month.
“Why don’t my Bell colleagues take this question?” AgustaWestland CEO Giuseppe Orsi suggested when asked why Bell would not accept his company’s additional money into the protracted BA609 Tiltrotor program, during a press conference on Wednesday here at the Paris Air Show.
The BA 609 Tiltrotor is making its flying debut here at Le Bourget. Bell/Agusta Aerospace has brought the second prototype to Paris after it made its first public appearance late last month at an Italian air show. Potential European customers have recently expressed concern about the aircraft’s cost of ownership. Its U.S.-Italian manufacturer might thus hope to convince them about its unique capabilities by showcasing it here.
Early in the second quarter, Bell/Agusta Aerospace reported that the BA609 civil tiltrotor program had logged 137 flights and 159 flight hours on ship 001, which is based in Fort Worth, Texas, and 14 flights and 14 flight hours on ship 002 in Cameri, Italy. The flight envelope reached 310 ktas, 25,000 feet and 35 knots in rearward and sideward flight. The longest single flight was 1.7 hours.
Last Friday morning the Bell/Agusta BA609 civil tiltrotor flew over Central Texas with its outboard nacelles rotating forward to full airplane mode for the first time. BA609 project pilot Roy Hopkins and Bell pilot Jim Lindsey said the powered-lift aircraft reached 190 knots in this configuration.
AgustaWestland recently disclosed it is moving production of the A119 Koala single-engine helicopter from Italy to Philadelphia. Flanked by Pennsylvania Gov. Edward Rendell and local politicians, company officials broke ground on March 2 on a manufacturing and final assembly plant at Northeast Philadelphia Airport, where about 20 Koalas will be built each year.
Bell Helicopter was at last month’s Heli-Expo in Las Vegas in force as usual, with a 412 and a 407 on display at its booth. At the static area, the Texas-based helicopter manufacturer had several new-design 427 mockups, an Eagle Eye UAV and a Bell 430. Another 430, along with a 427 and 407, was also available for customer flights from the convention center.
Last June Bell/Agusta completed initial testing of its BA609 civil tiltrotor at Bell’s Fort Worth, Texas flight-test center. At the time, project test pilot Roy Hopkins said he was particularly impressed by the tiltrotor’s handling qualities. Over nine flights of the BA609, Hopkins, accompanied by flight test pilot Dwayne Williams, logged 14 hours in helicopter mode.