MD Helicopters owner Lynn Tilton has committed to launching flight tests of an undisclosed new helicopter by the end of the year.

Tilton declined to name the ongoing project, but it is likely the MD540F concept that she publicly let slip last year.

The MD540F was still an internal secret last year, when Tipton announced it would be launched at MD's annual news conference at the Heli-Expo convention.

Perhaps trying to be more circumspect this year, Tilton refrained from naming the MD540F, but confirmed the company would soon fly a new aircraft for the first time in more than a decade.

"We are working on a new aircraft that will be an evolution of our scout helicopter that will have better payload and more power," said Tilton, founder of the Patriarch Partners hedge fund.

"You'll see it this year," Tilton promised, adding: "It will fly this year."

The MD540F was described by company officials last year as combining the airframe of the 530 model and the six-bladed rotor and stronger landing gear of the 600N helicopter. The result is a scout helicopter weighing up to 1,660kg (3,670lb).

The MD540F is aimed initially at the military trainer market - a sector that has recently been kind to MD's revival hopes.

MD supplied six MD530 helicopters to serve as trainers for the Afghan National Army under a US Army contract earlier this year. That order included options for dozens more airframes, which Tilton remains optimistic about converting into purchases. "We do expect and are really thankful for that business," she said.

Tilton purchased the company seven years ago when it was on the brink of collapse, but the revival has been slow and expensive. Tilton claimed to have invested hundreds of millions of dollars into the project, but the revived company has attracted few publicly-known orders.

Tilton acknowledged that a promised order from Saudi Arabia for an emergency management services version of the MD900 has evaporated.

"I am trying to get my good-faith deposit back," she said.

Industry officials appear unconvinced that MD can survive, despite Tilton's substantial investment in the company's future.

"We spend a lot of time fighting rumours of the death of the company," she said.

Source: Flight International