Development of civil tiltrotor slows as maker confirms link with grounded military V-22

Bell Helicopter has denied it is to cancel the Bell/Agusta Aerospace BA609 civil tiltrotor but has confirmed that it is slowing development work on the machine.

The company has acknowledged for the first time that the future of the BA609 is inextricably tied to the fate of the US Marine Corps' (USMC) troubled Bell Boeing V-22 Osprey programme.

"When the BA609 programme began in 1996 it was planned and scheduled to follow the V-22 programme," says John Murphey, recently appointed Bell chairman and chief executive. "The management team that started this programme believed that the V-22 must lead tiltrotor technology into the market – I still believe that."

This position contrasts with recent efforts by the company to distance the BA609 from the Osprey, which has been grounded for 15 months.

Because of this, and a cash crunch, Bell has decided to slow development and certification of the BA609, but has yet to offer a revised schedule (Flight International, 19-25 March).

The programme has been hit by a series of delays, but as recently as February's HAI Heli-Expo show the company suggested the six- to nine-seat tiltrotor would fly around the end of June. Under the original schedule, production deliveries were due to have started early this year.

Flight testing of the V-22 is to resume next month and, under a structured development and operational evaluation schedule, is not expected to enter USMC service before 2005 (Flight International, 29 January-4 February).

"I don't believe a commercial version can be successful in the market until the V-22 completes this latest testing," says Murphey.

The decision to delay the BA609 was not directed by Bell's parent company Textron, says Murphey. It is not yet clear what implications this will have on the joint venture with Agusta, which has a 25% stake in the BA609 programme and wants to pursue a larger European tiltrotor development programme based on its Erica concept. "We are discussing this decision with Agusta to plan a programme schedule that allows the V-22 to lead this technology," says Murphey.

The delay could fuel demands for refunds from customers who have placed orders for around 80 BA609s, sources suggest. Prospective operators are understood to have placed $100,000 deposits against each commitment.

Source: Flight International