Bell's production-conforming super-medium 525 Relentless is making its Heli-Expo debut this week in Anaheim, California. Registered as N525TY, the helicopter made its way from Bell’s Fort Worth, Texas headquarters in about seven hours and with four stops—a longer distance than usual because of the restrictions on experimental aircraft flying over densely populated areas.
The Bell 525 at Heli-Expo is S/N 15, the fifth flying Relentless, but now one of four flight-test vehicles as the first was lost in a flight-test accident. FAA flight testing will conclude after about 2,000 hours of flying, and the four helicopters are at about the three-quarter mark, according to Josh O’Neil, Bell's manager of technology and evaluation and chief engineer for the 525 program.
Bell isn’t providing a predicted timeline for FAA certification, but “we’re firmly in the certification phase,” he said. “Flight testing is generating certification data with all four aircraft. It’s a matter of getting all the documentation and reports in hand and sending them to the FAA.” Once that is done, the final steps are up to the FAA, and Bell has elected not to predict how quickly the FAA will complete its work.
When the 525 is certified, 37 kits will also be approved, including items such as air-conditioning, floats, weather radar, dual radar altimeters, and other features needed for oil-and-gas industry customers, said Bell.
The full ice-protection system (FIPS) will come later, probably two years after FAA certification, according to program director Byron Ward, primarily due to the need to find suitable icing conditions for flight testing. The FIPS was designed as an integral part of the 525 from the beginning, as were all the kits.
Bell is targeting FAA production certification shortly after type certification, Ward said. EASA certification is also planned fairly soon after the FAA nod, he added.
While Bell isn’t identifying the number of orders for the 525, some customers have flown the helicopter. Bell has been collaborating with German oil and gas operator Wintershall Dea on testing of the 525, but the company hasn’t been identified as a 525 buyer.
According to O’Neill, the 525 meets or exceeds all of Bell’s original design goals. With a fly-by-wire flight control system and Garmin G5000 avionics suite, “this design is going to be contemporary for the next 25 to 30 years,” he said.
The 525 Relentless, which is powered by two 1,714-shp GE CT7-2F1 turboshafts, has a 160-knot cruise speed and no-reserve range of 580 nm. Hover ceiling IGE is 10,700 feet and OGE is 8,100 feet. Max gross weight is 20,500 pounds, and in the oil-and-gas configuration shown on N525TY, there are 16 passenger seats with close access to emergency exits.