Bell Helicopter on 25 February introduced a huge Heli-Expo audience to the newly-branded 505 JetRanger X, the short light single (SLS) launched at last June's Paris air show that faces a suddenly tightening market.
The 505 is intended to return Bell to the entry-level, turbine-engine powered segment the company pioneered in the late-1960s with the original 206 JetRanger, which has grown heavier and out of the entry-level class.
Bell chief executive John Garrison calls the 505 the “revitalisation of the legendary JetRanger”.
It is also a key piece of the company’s plan to survive planned military spending cuts. The US Army has announced plans to retire the Bell OH-58D Kiowa Warrior and use Boeing AH-64E Apaches in the role rather than buy a replacement.
Meanwhile, the US Marine Corps’ acquisition of the AH-1Z Zulu and MV-22 Osprey aircraft are nearly exhausted, exposing Bell to plummeting military revenues in the second half of the decade.
Bell has countered aggressively by producing new commercial products. The 505 and super-medium 525 Relentless are scheduled to enter flight testing later this year.
But demand in the segment of the market occupied by the 505 appears to be softening. A five-year forecast released by Honeywell at Heli-Expo reveals a slight shift in demand away from light aircraft.
Other manufacturers are noticing that movement too. Robinson chief executive Kurt Robinson says he expects reduce production of the R66 to 150 in 2014 from nearly 200 last year.
Nonetheless, Garrison remains optimistic about the 505’s prospects. “We’re focused on ensuring our customers are successful,” he says, “because we know if you’re successful that we have a chance to be successful.”