Bell Helicopter is now aiming to have its new short light single Model 505 Jet Ranger X certified in the first half of 2016 and plans a fast production ramp up that could grow to 200 helicopters per year by 2018, according to program manager David Smith. Through the first week in December, Bell held 354 letters of intent for 505s, and three test aircraft had completed 485 flight test hours and another 115 on the ground.
“We feel very confident that we will be able to sustain 200 aircraft a year [production] for a considerable period of time even in this market,” Smith told AIN. “Many of the 200 that we will build in any given year will go to these large [parapublic] fleet sales where they are heavily customized aircraft with significant missionization. Bell Piney Flats [in Tennessee] does major customization for law enforcement, EMS, and VIP, and we expect a decent number of that production will go to a facility like Piney Flats for missionization. We have a number of police departments that are very interested in the 505 to help replace some aging aircraft in their fleet, and we expect their product to need special turrets and special interior monitoring stations, so a lot of these aircraft will go to Piney Flats for these extensive mods.”
Smith said some kits for the aircraft already are in flight test. “We’ve got the first round of kits mostly mature and in certification testing, many are installed on the third test aircraft and include HTAWS, night vision, a second VHF com, ELT and standby altimeter. Those are very close to being certified. There are a slew of kits just behind that including HF antennas and a second integrated navcoms, and we are working with the makers of autopilot systems and emergency floats. Our corporate customers really like to fly over water, and many of them are used to flying with autopilots that make flying cross country more comfortable and manageable,” he said. “Those are areas we are really focused, on and our follow-on kits will meet the customers’ needs coming right out of the factory at Lafayette; every one of these kits will be field installable and every one will be installable in Lafayette right off the line. Air-conditioning will be available on all factory deliveries or retrofittable.”
Smith said an increased color and striping patterns selection will be announced here at Heli-Expo as will be a new “ride quality mechanism.”
The new 505 factory is gearing up for production, Smith said. “Lafayette is building parts and moderate levels of assemblies right now. And they are building in quantities to support the 2016 deliveries.
“Lafayette has gone through several major milestones. It received its certificate of occupancy in 2015 and has been building production parts for the Bell 206 family including the main rotor hub, the tailrotor gearbox, and the main rotor gearbox. They have been building them up to a level that will make production next year much easier. They’ve also started work on a handful of parts that are truly 505 new parts. We expect the bulk of their assembly to start in January. They will receive key components that will allow the engine to be built up; components like the starter generators, wire harnesses, drain lines, and inlet filters. Production will be a very quick ramp up. We’ve worked very closely with our suppliers to ensure their production capabilities can meet an aggressive ramp rate so we will be delivering aircraft faster than we’ve ever delivered,” Smith said.
As to the three-ship test fleet, flight test vehicle 1 (FTV1) finished flying in November and was being prepared for an endurance ground run in late December before being turned over to the Bell Academy as a maintenance trainer in February.
FTV2, Smith said, is being outfitted with design changes that improve “certification produce-ability” and fatigue life of the structure. It resumes test flight early in the year and then will continue flying as a long-term research and development aircraft. It will also be used for follow-on kit development and product improvement.
FTV3, he said, “is really the one that on a continuing basis is doing the flying right now and will be doing the certification for the last several months primarily on handling qualities and some follow-on performance testing.” FTV3 was scheduled for more testing in the second half of February into March. This included emergency egress, avionics certification and avionics thermal testing.
“The rest of the program will be centered around structural fatigue testing of the aircraft,” Smith said. “It's a very comprehensive test regime that covers all major items on the aircraft; a test for tailboom, landing gear, main fuselage structure, several tests for the areas affected by rotor loads and high-cycle areas like where our control actuators are. So we probably have nine or ten tests that will be conducted during the first part of 2016 that will be finished up that will decide when we certify. We feel confident in the outcome of these tests. It’s more a function of how fast we can execute them, produce the data and provide that to the regulators. It will certainly be after the first quarter of 2016.”
Bell is seeking initial certification approval of the 505 from Transport Canada.