Bell/Agusta Aerospace plans to build a prototype military variant of the AB139 medium twin helicopter after its civil certification in late 2002.

Executive marketing director Antonio Giovannini says the company envisages the helicopter being used in the military fire support, troop transport and command and control roles, as well as for government applications such as law enforcement, search and rescue, border patrol, firefighting and coastguard duties. "The military agencies require in their tenders that the aircraft is certificated," says Giovannini, adding that the certification will meet European JAR and US FAR Part 29 requirements.

The company is manufacturing AB139 components for static and fatigue testing and expects to begin testing a complete fuselage this year. The first prototype is expected to fly by the end of 2000.

Giovannini says Agusta had completed most of the design work on the helicopter by the time the Italian company formed its joint venture with Bell Helicopter Textron last November. "Bell is supporting [the programme]. We have decided to have a second assembly line in North America," he says.

Bell/Agusta will run the two production lines in parallel, but has decided on single sources for all components. The Italian production line, at Vergiate, will focus on markets in Europe, the Middle East and Africa. The USA will focus on the Americas and the Pacific Rim.

Programme partners include Pratt & Whitney Canada, supplying the twin PT6C-67C turboshafts; Honeywell, supplying its Primus Epic avionics; GKN Westland, responsible for the tail rotor drive train; PZL Swidnik, which will manufacture airframe components; Liebherr, supplying the landing gear and air conditioning system and Kawasaki, responsible for the transmission input module.

The other parts will be manufactured by Agusta or Bell.

The basic helicopter is to have a 157kt (290km/h) cruise speed, a maximum range of 740km (400nm), with a 6,000kg (13,200lb) maximum take-off weight and a 2,700kg useful load. The helicopter will be the only one in its class capable of one-engine inoperative take-off and landing operations, claims Bell/Agusta.

Giovannini anticipates a market of about 900 aircraft over 20 years, "which we believe to be conservative, considering the market forecast is for more than 3,000 helicopter replacements".

Source: Flight International