Bell Boeing are aiming for a mid-1999 first flight of the civil tilt-rotor

The six- to nine-passenger civil tilt-rotor (CTR) aircraft which Bell Helicopter Textron (BHT) and Boeing Helicopters have agreed to produce jointly is set to have its maiden flight in mid-1999, says the joint-venture company.

As previously reported (Flight International 30 October-5 November), the partners on the larger V-22 Osprey military tilt-rotor aircraft have agreed to pool their resources to build a CTR aimed at the corporate market.

Bell is leading the CTR development, with a 51% stake in the project. The production work will be split along the lines of V-22 production and final assembly will take place at BHT's Fort Worth site.

Officials believe that the corporate aircraft, which is "-the logical, evolutionary, outgrowth of the Osprey programme, will be the bridge for the aviation industry and the flying public to the next generations of CTRs. A CTR for the regional-airline industry will require additional time and exposure to the V-22. The 609 is the right aircraft to set the market tone for tilt-rotors," they add.

Previously known as the D-600, the BB 609, which will be powered by two 1,380kW (1,850shp) Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6C-67A turboshaft engines, would achieve US Federal Aviation Administration certification in early 2001 with first deliveries to follow immediately. Four BB609 prototypes will be built for the flight-test and certification programmes.

P&WC plans to certificate the PT6C-67A and start production deliveries in mid-2000. The rival LHTEC CTS800-4N turboshaft was rejected. Project officials say that it offers insufficient power and is less mature than the PT6.

According to Jim Morris, head of Boeing Helicopters, the BB 609, which will feature composite-materials construction, digital flight controls and an advanced glass cockpit, will be pressurised and certificated for instrument flight into known icing conditions. It will offer cruise speeds of up to 275kt (510km/h ) and a 1,390km (750nm) range. The aircraft, which will sell for $8-10 million, will have a seat-cost-per-kilometre equal to or better than twin helicopters at more than twice the speed and range, adds Morris.

Company studies predict a market for about 1,000 BB 609s over the next two decades. "The market is there, but we are five years away from delivering aircraft and we are still a few months away from being able to offer hard specifications," says BHT chairman Webb Joiner.

Source: Flight International