Abu Dhabi-based NorthStar Aviation is to work with airframe manufacturer Bell Helicopter to develop an armed variant of the latter’s 429 medium twin.

NorthStar has already seen sales success with its Bell 407GX-derived Multi-Role Helicopter (MRH), notably with the United Arab Emirates air force, which operates 30 examples of the light single.

However, Terry Key, vice-president and chief pilot at NorthStar, says that some potential operators want the additional capabilities and security that two engines provide.

“Some people want a twin, particularly for operations over water, or for the higher altitude and fly-away capability if they lose and engine,” he says.

Although the commercial variant is limited to a maximum take-off weight of 3,180kg (7,000lb) in some countries thanks to civil certification under the Part 27 category, any military variant could operate at a higher take-off weight, of at least 3,400kg.

Development would take around a year, says Key, although this is dependent on customer interest.

Bell has not previously looked at arming the 429, says Patrick Moulay, vice-president global sales and marketing. It prefers to leave this to “experts” like NorthStar and concentrate on “getting the most capability out of the aircraft”.

In the meantime, NorthStar is working to increase the range of munitions available on the 407 MRH, including the R-model of Lockheed Martin’s AGM-114 Hellfire air-to-surface missile and Roketsan’s Cirit guided rocket.

The MRH is already able to deploy an older Hellfire variant, along with Raytheon’s Talon laser-guided rocket and AGM-176 Griffin missile.

New sensors, including FLIR Systems Star Safire 380 and L-3 Wescam MX-10 and MX-15 electro-optical/infrared camera will also be integrated to broaden choice for customers. “We want to keep increasing the capabilities of the aircraft,” says Key.

Armaments on the example on display at the Dubai show feature an M260 Hydra rocket pod, GAU-19 .50-calibre gun, Dillon Aero M134D 7.62mm mini-gun and a Hellfire on four of its six weapon stations.

Source: Flight Daily News