But US manufacturer holds off on new developments and looks at EH101 as complement to V-22 tiltrotor offering

Bell is undertaking a comprehensive review across its single and twin turbine-powered range of light and intermediate commercial helicopters, but says it is still not ready to commit to any new developments. The US manufacturer at the same time is continuing to express interest in the larger AgustaWestland EH101 as a future market complement to the military Bell Boeing V-22 tiltrotor.

Bell in 2002 revealed its JRX concept for a replacement for the entry-level 206 JetRanger and had been expected to launch the programme at this month's Helicopter Association International (HAI) show. "We're still working on technology development issues and will be spending a lot of time making sure we get it right. We will make competitive product announcements at the right time, but it's not going to be this HAI," says Bell chairman and president John Murphey.

JRX is one of several potential new or improved products being considered under Bell's Vision 2020 plan. Aside from replacing the 206B-3 and L-4, the company has been looking at improvements to the 427 light twin, only five of which were delivered in 2002. The company concedes "the 427 has some limitations" in terms of available power and its current certification restricting it to visual flight-rule operations. Bell also says it wants to lower the cost of the 430 intermediate twin.

"Over the next 10 years we think any product on the market today, exclusive of tiltrotors, will have to be replaced or significantly improved," says Murphey. The company will continue to make improvements to the larger 412, but nothing on the scale of the original planned 412 Plus engine and avionics upgrade, which was dropped in favour of the next generation Bell/Agusta AB139 scheduled for certification this year.

Bell says it continues to "hold an interest" in the EH101, as AgustaWestland and systems partner Lockheed Martin attempt to find a company to build the helicopter in its US101 guise. It is being targeted to meet US Air Force combat search and rescue requirements and a US Marine Corps requirement to replace Sikorsky VH-3 presidential transports. Boeing and Kaman have also held collaborative discussions with AgustaWestland.

Source: Flight International