Bell Helicopter Textron and Boeing Helicopters, partners on the V-22 military transport, have agreed to agreed to build a nine-passenger civil tilt-rotor (CTR) aircraft aimed at the corporate market. The corporate aircraft, which will be powered by twin Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6 engines would enter service in 2001, and is possibly the first in a wider CTR family.

Bell-Boeing officials, still insist that a launch decision for the nine-seat CTR programme, will not be made before the end of the year, but Flight International learned from Republican Congressman Curt Weldon, who is seeking re-election in the Pennsylvania district where Boeing Helicopters is based, that the project has already received corporate approvals.

Plans for the launch of the new aircraft, now referred to as the D-600 (after the drawing number), were disclosed in Weldon's speech at the opening of the American Helicopter Museum, near the Boeing Helicopter plant. A formal company announcement is expected in Washington on 18 November, with full technical details to follow the next day at the National Business Aircraft Association (NBAA) trade show in Orlando, Florida. The NBAA confirms that the Bell-Boeing joint venture has scheduled a 19 November press conference.

"Bell and Boeing are going to announce this new privately funded initiative that they think will revolutionise commercial aviation-The market is there. There is the commitment to build, and they think they can carve out a niche in the civil marketplace. They are ready to move into production," says Weldon.

"We've been pushing industry and the US Government to establish CTR development and vertiports throughout the country. We see this as the first step in moving to what I think will become a mainstay in aviation, civil tilt-rotor aircraft that will carry 40, 60 or 80 passengers," he adds.

Rumours of work on the D-600 CTR have circulated for several years, but details on the design remain hazy. Although a 40-seat CTR appears to hold the greatest sales potential, it was decided that a more-modest pressurised nine-passenger version for the corporate-aircraft market would be the lead project.

Under consideration to power the D-600 were the 970kW (1,300shp) LHTEC CTS800, the in-development civil version of the T800 which powers the US Army's Boeing Sikorsky RAH-66 Comanche scout/attack helicopter; and a version of the Pratt and Whitney Canada PT6, rated at about 1,000kW.

The PT6 was selected around July. Industry sources say that Bell and Boeing were concerned that the CTS800 offered insufficient power and that it was less mature than the PT6.

Industry-Government studies have evaluated a range of CTRs holding eight to 75 passengers. The Civil Tilt-rotor Development Advisory Committee (CTRDAC) concludes that a CTR is technically feasible and could be an economically viable commuter aircraft. The CTRDAC also says that a market exists for a small CTR, including a corporate version, if such a machine can be produced at a competitive price.

"The introduction of a light CTR will aid in building confidence in the tilt-rotor concept in the commercial sector.

Source: Flight International