Like the old blues song goes, “It’s been a long time coming. But a change is gonna come.” That change–the possible revolution that is the promise of civil tiltrotor flight– took to the air on March 7 with the first flight of Bell/Agusta Aerospace’s BA609 tiltrotor prototype.
In 1965, Indonesian president Sukarno characterized the tumultuous (he was overthrown) political period to come as “The Year of Living Dangerously,” the title of his annual state-of-the-nation address.
To reduce to its essence a recent interview with HAI president Roy Resavage, one might characterize the 12 months since the last HAI Heli-Expo as “The Year in Which Survival Was Its Own Form of Victory.”
In the face of what market forecasters predict will be nearly another full decade of flat civil helicopter sales, manufacturers have been loath to risk precious capital to develop models whose market reception would likely be less than enthusiastic. The result has been a handful of new designs, some riskier than others. Herein, the details…
Remember that day in early spring when suddenly it seemed as if every flower that could bloom actually did, unnoticed and overnight? That’s what happened at the end of the year, when some long-somnolent vertical-lift programs suddenly sprang to life. Most notable was the Bell/Agusta BA609 civil tiltrotor, which underwent its first power-on engine runups at its Arlington, Texas test base early last month.
Taking its place on Bell Helicopter’s Arlington, Texas, tiltrotor test stands for the first time last month, the long-awaited first of a planned four Bell/ Agusta 609 convertiplane prototypes began its engine runups in December. First flight is loosely scheduled for the first quarter of this year. The six- to 10-passenger aircraft will undergo a planned 40 to 50 hr of static testing before flight.
Rapid economic growth in the United Arab Emirates is fueling the expansion of Dubai-based helicopter operator Helidubai. Less than two years after its inception, the company, owned by the government of Dubai, has embarked on a fleet expansion with both passenger and aerial-work aircraft. In addition, it is also striving to help create dedicated heliports and helipads in the burgeoning city.
Maybe it was pent-up demand. Maybe it was part of a desire to party before the war. Maybe times aren’t as hard as the pundits say they are. No matter the reason, this year’s staging of the Helicopter Association International Heli-Expo was a success far beyond anyone’s expectations.
Successfully completing phase one of what will be the world’s first civil certification of a tiltrotor aircraft, veteran convertiplane pilot Roy Hopkins recently found himself in possession of something he hadn’t had much of in the last few months: spare time.
Bowing to some inevitable delays after September 11, Bell/Agusta Aerospace reports assembly of the first two BA609 tiltrotors is nearing completion, with engine runups slated to begin this month. First flight is still scheduled to take place at Bell’s Arlington, Texas flight research center before the end of the year, although industry observers have expressed skepticism that this deadline can be met.
Bell and Agusta continue their development of the BA609 civil tiltrotor, a joint effort that has been ongoing for more than a decade. However, the future of the program may hinge on the joint venture’s ability to control program costs, speed certification and deliveries, as well as the success of the first squadron of military tiltrotors about to deploy to Iraq.