Bell Helicopter has upped the capabilities of its in-development 525 Relentless on the back of favourable data generated from the design review process.
The super medium type will now boast a maximum gross weight of at least 8,750kg (19,300lb), up from 8,570kg, combined with the ability to carry six passengers for 500nm (926km), growing from 400nm. However, it is confident that the production version will exceed even these revised estimates.
Jeff Lowinger, executive vice-president engineering at the Fort Worth-based manufacturer, says the change has been made possible thanks to "more clarity and familiarity with the design"
Production of the components for the initial prototypes is under way and assembly of the first test article will begin "by the end of this month", says Lowinger.
First flight of the GE CT7-powered 525 is scheduled for 2014, with certification following "as fast as possible".
Key innovations on the clean-sheet helicopter include fly-by-wire controls and a largely composite construction. The additional space created by the new control system has enabled a rethink of the cockpit layout, including the removal of doors for the flightcrew. Pilots will instead exit the aircraft via the first passenger row. This, in turn, has allowed Bell to increase visibility for the crew.
Troy Caudill, lead test pilot for the 525 programme, and a key driver of the layout, says: "Total situational awareness and reduced pilot workload gets you an increase in safety."
He is looking forward to the first flight next year. "I've spent a lot of time in the simulator and they are going to have a fight to get the first aircraft off me," he says.
Bell has yet to start taking in orders for the 16-passenger helicopter - although it has secured PHI Group as launch customer - but is confident of its market appeal, despite its entering service behind its super medium rivals.
"We believe it will be significantly differentiated from the fleet out there today. It will offer the end-customer the operational value they need to be successful for their missions."
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