Bell plans to offer its 407 long single for the Navy’s THXX helicopter trainer competition and held out the possibility that it might offer its 429 light twin as an option as well. On Friday, Bell CEO Mitch Snyder said the company was working with the FAA on gaining IFR certification for the 407 by August.
Snyder pointed out that Bell is the current legacy provider of training aircraft for the Navy with the TH57 and that, beyond the Navy contract, gaining IFR certification for the 407 offers the company advantages in the air ambulance, offshore, and law enforcement markets. Although the 407 is currently assembled at Bell’s Mirabel, Canada plant, Snyder said most of its components are of U.S. origin and therefore should not run afoul of White House directives to the Pentagon to “buy American.”
Meanwhile, Snyder said Bell’s current new high-profile military program, the V-280 third-generation tiltrotor, has exceeded 280 knots in forward flight, achieved more than 100 flight hours, and shown “good acceleration” in pitch, roll, and yaw. He expressed confidence that the Army would continue funding for the Joint Multi-Role Technology Demonstrator (JMR-TD) program, for which the V-280 is a candidate, when it runs out later this year.
Bell’s other major new rotorcraft program, the civil 525 Relentless super-medium twin, is also progressing well, Snyder said, noting that two aircraft are currently in cold-weather testing in Yellowknife, Canada, and another flying heavy snow testing in Rome, New York. Currently, four 525 aircraft are in flight testing and have accumulated 1,000 hours. The FAA joined the flight-test program in November.
A fifth test ship has been fitted with a production interior and is undergoing ground tests at Bell’s Amarillo production facility. “It’s going to start flying pretty quick and we plan to have all test aircraft flying for the remainder of the year,” Snyder said. “We’re still driving to certify the 525 by the end of the year.”
Bell has seen “tremendous interest” in the 525, he said, but declined to discuss the order book for the helicopter beyond saying, “We’re just kind of keeping that to ourselves.”
Overall, Snyder said Bell saw “a little bounce in the commercial market” last year, noting that the company posted a 44 percent increase in commercial aircraft deliveries in 2018 over 2017 levels. However, most of that was accounted for by the delivery of 116 of Bell’s Model 505 light singles. “Customers love it,” Snyder said.
He declined to say if 2019 deliveries of 505s would match 2018 levels, but said deliveries of the aircraft are expanding to a wider clientele that includes law enforcement and electronic newsgathering (ENG). He noted that the second law-enforcement-kitted 505 was recently delivered to the Stockton, California police department and that the first ENG-equipped 505 was ordered by a customer in Houston. Meanwhile, the company recently completed high/hot testing of the 505 in Nepal and the in-service fleet recently exceeded 13,000 hours.
Snyder expects to see an uptick in the delivery of Bell’s other civil models this year, including the 429 light twin, across a broad spectrum of customers including near-shore oil and gas, air ambulance, and law enforcement. “The segments we operate in and the aircraft that we have we’ve seen strong demand for those aircraft. The market for us is still increasing,” he said.
This week at Heli-Expo, Bell will display a Georgia State Police 429, a mockup of its Nexus urban air taxi, and two models of its proposed Autonomous Pod Transport (APT) UAVs. Snyder said automated vertical takeoff and landing aircraft (VTOL) are “are a lot closer than people think,” but acknowledges myriad challenges facing this new generation of aircraft, including “working with the urban infrastructure.”
“Urban air mobility is very complex,” Snyder warned, but said the benefits therefrom offer a “step function” change in terms of convenience and cost savings compared to traditional rotorcraft. With the Nexus “you’re going to see a cabin size similar to a 429 with very low operating costs” Snyder said, thanks to the aircraft’s single-engine, electric-hybrid propulsion system. “We’re working on lots of cool products; new clean-sheet designs and ways to upgrade the aircraft we have in production today.”