European partner discusses expanded role in programme after Bell delays certification

AgustaWestland is in talks with partner Bell to expand its participation in the BA609 programme in an effort to speed up development of the nine-seat civil tiltrotor, as engineering work on the AB139 starts to slow with the medium-size helicopter nearing certification around the middle of the year.

Giuseppe Orsi, AgustaWestland managing director, says the company is "prepared to have a higher share" in BA609 development and hopes to reach an agreement with Bell in the near future. The US manufacturer has pushed back certification to early 2007 to focus attention on fixing the troubled Bell Boeing V-22 Osprey tiltrotor programme for the US Marine Corps.

"To speed up the BA609 it is maybe necessary to have increased technical support. Even to achieve 2007, there will have to be more involvement with AgustaWestland," says Orsi. Under the Bell/Agusta Aerospace (BAAC) partnership agreement, AgustaWestland has around a 25% stake in the BA609 with Bell having a comparable stake in the twin-engined AB139.

AgustaWestland would like to extend its involvement across the programme, including flight testing. Under the BAAC agreement, the European manufacturer has responsibility for part of the tiltrotor's transmission, wiring and flaperons, fatigue testing of the wing and fly-by-wire engineering.

Meanwhile, Bell has completed ground runs and taxi-testing of the first BA609 prototype in readiness for a planned first flight in mid-April. Since early December, the company has logged 32h of rotor turn time with the nacelles transitioning between 95° and 75°. The tiltrotor has made six taxi tests up to 50kt (90km/h), with the nacelles between 95° and 75°.

Source: Flight International