New entry-level helicopter is part of "Vision 2020" plan

Bell has revealed outline details of the JRX, a concept study aimed at a possible entry-level successor to the ubiquitous 206B JetRanger which has been in production since 1973.

Despite revealing the study at Heli Expo, Bell is tight-lipped about the JRX concept, which is being evaluated as part of the company's "Vision 2020" production plan. This ranges across indigenous designs as well as those in development with Bell/Agusta Aerospace such as the AB139 and BA609 tiltrotor, and forms the blueprint for the next four to five years' production plan, says Bell chairman and president John Murphey.

"Bell needs an entry-level aircraft to take the place of the JetRanger," says Murphey, who cautions that the study does not mean the end of today's 206. "There is no intent to let the 206 vanish into history. There is still a very small group of customers that want new JetRangers - but the biggest competition is increasingly used JetRangers," he adds.

The JRX study will focus on market reaction to a low operating cost, single turbine helicopter with larger windows, a modernised, wider cabin and a state-of-the-art cockpit. "We need to understand what the market wants," says Murphey, adding that the results will be fed into the 2020-plan by year-end.

As part of the plan, Murphey says Bell/Agusta is weighing up options for a US AB139 final assembly line to augment the line in Italy. "It could happen is our full intent to bring AB139 production to the US," he adds, saying the option is based on a simple, modular final assembly concept. "There would be no need for duplication of detailed fabrication stages," Murphey adds.

The US line, if sanctioned, would specialise in completion of customer unique configurations, painting and other tasks, predominantly for the North American market. Murphey believes the line would be busy due to the AB139's potential in the special operations, security service utility and emergency medical service (EMS) markets.

The move could also politically support Bell/Agusta's plan to offer the AB139 for the US Coast Guard's highly competitive future search and rescue helicopter requirement.

The 2020-plan also includes potential upgrades to boost the popularity and performance of the slow-selling 427 which, to date, has amassed only 20 sales against more than 500 for its 407 stablemate. "That is a production introduction that's been disappointing," admits Murphey who says an improved high altitude performance package, an EMS configuration and instrument flight rules upgrade are now being studied.

Source: Flight International