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…
Following up on the strategy it announced at last year’s HAI to expand in the helicopter parts and service market, Bell Helicopter Textron has announced that it acquired the helicopter skid shoe business of Calimesa, Calif.-based Carbide Technology. The $1-million-a-year-revenue business line will become part of Edwards & Associates, a unit of Textron that provides parts, service and modifications for the helicopter market.
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.
Three of the eight U.S. Marine Corps officers charged with wrongdoing in the MV-22 Osprey tiltrotor scandal have been found liable to some of the administrative charges. The other five officers and men were cleared of charges that they participated in a scheme to falsify maintenance records. (It should be stressed that being found in violation of a charge is not, under the code of military justice, the equivalent of criminal conviction.)
Bell Helicopter Textron last month announced plans to lay off 270 workers at its Fort Worth-area plants. The job cuts will affect both union-represented hourly workers and salaried employees. A spokesman for the rotorcraft builder said further cutbacks were possible as the company reevaluated its position in the slumping world helicopter market and as the effects of investigations and slowdowns in the U.S.
The controversial Bell-Boeing MV-22 Osprey is now flying in a combat zone for the first time. The U.S. Marine Corps deployed 10 of the tiltrotor assault aircraft to western Iraq earlier this month. Their performance there will be scrutinized closely by critics of the V-22 program, who charge that the aircraft is difficult to fly and vulnerable to enemy fire while landing.
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.
Agusta officials have revealed they are currently negotiating with Bell to increase the share the Italian manufacturer holds in the BA609 tiltrotor program. Currently at 25 percent for Agusta and 75 percent for Bell, the workshare may eventually become “close to 50/50,” Agusta CEO Amedeo Caporaletti said.