The arrival of the AB139 at the Phoenix, Arizona, test centre is the first time the twin-engined development machine has been on the same site as its BA609 civil tiltrotor stablemate. The milestone comes four years after the US/Italian joint venture began, following the withdrawal of Bell's V-22 military tiltrotor partner Boeing from the programme.

This agreement between Bell and Agusta cemented a relationship that began in 1952, when Agusta received a licence to manufacture the Bell 47.The Italian company subsequently produced the Bell 204/205 and 206, as well as the 212/412, under licence.

Bell has a majority shareholding in the new venture, which is responsible for worldwide marketing of both aircraft. Under the deal, Agusta - now AgustaWestland - retains sole responsibility for developing the 12- to 15-seat AB139 through certification and production, but will also develop parts for the six- to nine-seat BA609, including empennage, gearbox and ailerons. The Anglo-Italian company will also assemble the tiltrotor in Italy to serve Europe and other parts of the world. Bell will assemble the two- to 15-seat AB139 for the North American market, while retaining sole responsibility for the 609. The tiltrotor, which completed powered ground runs last month, was due to enter service last year but was hit by a funding shortage and an 18-month grounding of the V-22 to which it is tied. The 609's revised schedule calls for certification and first deliveries in 2007 (Flight International, 17-30 December 2002).

Source: Flight International