The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (Darpa) is giving Boeing $9 million over the next two years to investigate the feasibility of developing a disc-rotor compound helicopter capable of achieving forward speeds of up to 400 ktas while retaining all the maneuverability of a traditional helicopter. The disc-rotor would have a rotating circular wing with retractable blades that extend from the disc edge for takeoff and landing.
Unfazed by (or perhaps because of) murmurs from within Bell Helicopter management to the effect that development of the BA609 might be accelerated, Agusta- Westland has released some details of its developmental Erica tilt-wing aircraft (so-called because in the Erica’s case the entire wing is rotated between fixed- and rotary-wing flight).
While praising the efforts of his predecessor, Bell Helicopter’s freshly appointed CEO has been offering his own vision of the future for the beleaguered rotorcraft giant. What emerges is a daring strategy that essentially bets the company on the success of the embattled V-22 Osprey military tiltrotor and, later, the BA609 civil tiltrotor programs.
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.
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.
While the immediate effect on the ongoing tests of the MV-22 Osprey tiltrotor is questionable, the U.S. Navy’s Office of Naval Research (ONR) has reportedly awarded Boeing a $10.25 million contract to look into the workability of a reconfigurable rotor-blade design as part of the overall reevaluation of the troubled convertiplane.
With little fanfare and a lot of crossed fingers, flight test of the embattled Bell Boeing MV-22 Osprey resumed in the final days of May at the U.S. Navy’s Patuxent River Naval Air Station in Maryland.
In the aeronautical mountain range, a few peaks are still unclimbed. Some goals, once thought impossible, are an everyday fact. Jet propulsion, supersonic flight, a practical helicopter and the miracles of manned and unmanned spaceflight all whiz past our bemused faces while we scarcely register a raised eyebrow.
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.