Sales of the Bell Boeing Model 609 civil tilt-rotor are ahead of expectations, with deposits received for more than 40 aircraft so far. "The order rate is beyond what we hoped for this early," says marketing chief Ron Reber. "We are overwhelmed by the response."

The $8-10 million pricetag on the tilt-rotor "-is not a deterrent", Reber says. A medium-sized helicopter costs $5-7 million, he says, "and the 609, with twice the capability, is well worth the price". The Model 609 is a six- to nine-passenger aircraft with a 7,265kg maximum gross weight, 1,400km (750nm) range, 275kt (510km/h) cruise speed and 25,000ft (7,800m) operational ceiling.

Missions envisaged include offshore support, executive transport, emergency-medical service (EMS)and search-and-rescue. The initial orders have been placed by offshore, private and corporate customers. Several governments have expressed interest in the aircraft, as have some EMS operators, Reber says, but none has placed orders yet.

Design work is well under way, and tooling is being built ready for the manufacture of test specimens. The 609 has an all-composite airframe, to save weight, with materials similar to those being used in the Bell Boeing V-22 military tilt-rotor.

A critical design-review is scheduled to be completed in April 1998, clearing the way for construction of four flight-test aircraft, the first of which is expected to be flown in mid-1999. Boeing is responsible for the fuselage and empennage; Bell for the wing, nacelles and final assembly.

Most of the suppliers have been selected and some could end up as risk-sharing partners in the programme, says Reber. "That's how we would like it to be," he says. Key suppliers include Pratt &Whitney Canada, for the PT6C-67A turboshafts; Rockwell-Collins, for the Pro Line 21 flat-panel avionics; and Hamilton Standard, for the digital fly-by-wire flight-control system, which will have an architecture based on that of the Boeing 777.

Certification to the new US Part 21.17(b) regulations for powered-lift aircraft is scheduled for early 2001. This combines the relevant parts of Part 29 certification for rotary-wing and Part 25 for fixed-wing transport aircraft and is "-about 95% agreed to", says Reber.

Bell Boeing expects the US Federal Aviation Administration to "-take the lead" in certificating the civil tilt-rotor, but as many of the initial orders have been received from overseas, the team is already talking to the Canadian and European authorities. "We're keeping them in the loop," Reber says.

Bell and Boeing originally thought that the major 609 market would be in the USA, but the initial orders "come from the five continents," Reber says. Five have been sold in the Middle East, incluing two to a Dubai-based customer who wants to set up a worldwide operating network.

Source: Flight International