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Bell may shun conventional helicopter for clean-sheet design

Bell's next-clean sheet development is unlikely to be a conventional helicopter, according to chief executive Mitch Snyder, who instead sees greater benefit in tiltrotor and urban air mobility (UAM) designs.

Although Snyder acknowledges that the "conventional helicopter is not going away", Bell is more likely to apply "incremental upgrades" to its existing products than design a new helicopter from scratch.

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Snyder, speaking at the Paris air show, sees this as a continuation of a strategy that has been used on several long-running Bell models that have received avionics or engine upgrades to stay up to date.

But Snyder argues that research into areas such as autonomous flight – vital for Bell's vision in the UAM sector – can enhance helicopters in the current range. "It is technology that can spin into upgrades of existing platforms," he says.

That will drive incremental improvements on the "legacy fleet", says Snyder, but "clean-sheets are more [in the areas of] on-demand mobility and future vertical lift".

However, he acknowledges that modernisation can only do so much to certain designs that have been around in one form or another since the 1960s.

Notably, Bell has yet to decide on its strategy to the replace the 412 – a helicopter that was first produced in 1981 and is based on the even older 212. It is currently built to the EPI standard and features twin Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6T-9 engines and a digital flightdeck.

Although Snyder says it "has some ideas" on the future of the 412, of which "some are clean-sheet [and] some are not", it has not yet decided which to advance.

Noting the ongoing effort to certificate the fly-by-wire 525 Relentless super-medium-twin, Snyder says once that is achieved "it opens up the window to say what's next".

In addition, Snyder still sees the future potential of a civil tilitrotor, although he believes the selection of a rotorcraft with that architecture by the US military is necessary to "bring the cost per unit down".

"There is definitely a commercial [tiltrotor] application," he says.

Separately, Bell and partner Subaru announced on 19 June that they have received a commitment for an undisclosed quantity of 412EPX helicopters from Japan's national police.

Branded as the Subaru Bell 412EPX, the rotorcraft is a commercial derivative of the helicopter the partners are building for the Japanese military under the UH-X programme, which they won in 2015.

Destined to replace the 130 UH-1Js operated by the Japan Ground Self-Defence Force, a first prototype of the transport helicopter was delivered to Tokyo's defence ministry in February.

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