Programme back on track as development machine arrives in USA for avionics testing

Bell/Agusta Aerospace (BAAC) is now aiming for mid-year type certification of the AB139 medium helicopter after suffering a setback in 2002. The first development machine has arrived in the USA from Italy for the start of avionics certification testing in Phoenix, Arizona.

BAAC executive marketing director Tim Brookman says the AB139 will be certificated initially by the Italian ENAC authority, followed within three months by US Federal Aviation Administration approval. This represents a slippage of about six months on the original schedule largely because of a grounding following the fatal crash of a test helicopter last April, which is still under investigation.

The programme has clocked up 500h flight time since the first prototype flew in early 2001, and a tie-down vehicle has just concluded a 750h test programme, of which one-third counts towards certification. A fourth helicopter and the first production-configured example will fly in the second quarter of this year. Certification testing in Phoenix is focused on the AB139's Honeywell Primus Epic integrated control and display system, which will be rated at the outset for single-pilot instrument flight rules.

BAAC plans to deliver about half the 40 helicopters on order by the end of 2004, including the first US operator machine in September this year. In addition to the 22 mainly corporate and law enforcement customers who have ordered the AB139, Lockheed Martin/Northrop Grumman's winning Integrated Coast Guard Systems venture has selected the 6t machine as the US Coast Guard's (USCG) future vertical take-off/landing recovery and surveillance (VRS) aircraft.

"The AB139 will be assembled by Bell in Texas in due course as business builds and in particular in connection with the [USCG] Deepwater programme," says Brookman. The USCG requirement does not call for the delivery of the first VRS helicopters until 2012. As a first step, AB139 flight training will be established in the USA. Under the BAAC partnership, Bell has a 25% stake in the AB139, while AgustaWestland holds a similar-size interest in the US-led BA609 tiltrotor programme.


Source: Flight International