Bell will in early 2019 dispatch a pair of 525 Relentless helicopters to Yellowknife in Canada to complete cold weather testing, as the manufacturer pushes to achieve US type certification in 2019.

In addition, a third prototype of the super-medium helicopter will be transfered to the north of the continental USA to validate performance in snowy conditions.

The airframer is now nearing 900h of flight time on the Relentless, with 1,300h of turn time also accumulated.

US Federal Aviation Administration certification is on track for 2019, says programme manager Byron Ward, and European validation will follow around six to seven months later.

Bell intends to begin flights for potential customers in the fly-by-wire 525 in the second or third quarter of next year.

These will be performed in the programme's fifth prototype which is due to make its maiden flight shortly. It will be one of two pre-serial 525s, but the only one to feature a full VIP interior.

Production of initial customer aircraft is under way at the manufacturer's site in Amarillo, Texas, although Ward declines to say how many are currently in final assembly.

In addition, the manufacturer has yet to reveal order numbers for the Relentless, or which variant – oil and gas or VIP – will be first to market.

Search and rescue-roled 525s will follow later, as qualification tests of the relevant mission equipment will continue after baseline certification is secured. Bell also is developing a full ice protection system for the helicopter.