Paul Lewis/MILAN

Bell/Agusta Aerospace is preparing to step up development of the AB139 helicopter. Two more prototypes are being built ready to join the flight test programme as the joint venture company maps out a variety of civil and military configurations for the new mid-size machine.


A second prototype is set to make its maiden flight within the next month, while Bell/Agusta is planning to bolster the flight test programme by converting a ground test vehicle (GTV). The initial AB139 test machine, in the meantime, has clocked up around 45h since its first flight in early February, according to Umberto Fontanella, Bell/Agusta head of marketing AB139.

The GTV, which was the first AB139 airframe to be built, has completed 150h of dynamic component testing. The machine is being stripped down for inspection and maintenance analysis, after which it will be used for flight testing. Agusta is hoping the results from ground testing will help validate its design aim of a $750 per hour direct operating cost.

"Our target is a 5,000h time between overhaul for all of the more important systems, dynamic components and engines, and on condition guarantees for all other parts. Our target is 1.5h of maintenance per hour of flight. The AB139 has 30% less components than a Bell 412EP and we're working to lighten inspection times to 300h," says Fontanella.

Bell/Agusta is hoping for Italian and US Federal Aviation Administration certification of the 6t helicopter by late 2002, followed by delivery of the first offshore support and VIP-configured machines in early 2003. The former version will be able to transport 10 passengers up to 650km (350nm) with 20min of reserve. Baseline options include flotation bags, moving map display with GPS satellite navigation, a health usage monitoring system and cockpit voice/data recorders.

Follow-on versions being planned include an emergency medical service helicopter equipped with a searchlight and wire strike protection. There will also be a utility version equipped with a cargo floor, and an external hook capable of lifting a 2,720kg (6,000lb) load, and a fire fighting helicopter with a belly-mounted tank.

Bell/Agusta plans to offer a military derivative a year after certification, which will include the addition of a fourth multi-function display and a second central display unit in the cockpit. Options include a forward-looking infrared imager, external rescue hoist and two side mounted weapon pylons, particle separators and infra red suppressors. Among the countries looking at a military version are Greece and Oman.

Source: Flight International