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Picture: Bell ARH-70A performs first flights in Texas, two years after contract award

By Justin Wastnage in London

The Bell Helicopter ARH-70A armed reconnaissance helicopter performed its first two flights last Thursday at the company's facility in Arlington, Texas.

The aircraft took off from Bell's XworX site and flew several manoeuvres in a 1.5h test programme. The aircraft flew in a hover for both in-ground and out-of-ground effect and reached a speed of 80kt (150km/h) and an altitude of 500ft (150m). The 407-based ARH-70A also performed banking manoeuvres of up to 30°.

Bell ARH-70A first flightThe company is hailing the first flight (pictured right), which was rapidly followed by a second flight over the weekend. Bell says this makes the programme one of the quickest periods from initial contract to flight of any military programme. Bell chief executive Mike Redenbaugh says: "The ARH-70A is needed for the war on terror that is being fought by our military. This first flight begins a new phase in the development of the aircraft and brings it closer to beginning the missions it was designed to execute."

Bell won the contract to provide a replacement for the Bell OH-58D Kiowa Warrior in 2004 after the original replacement, the Boeing / Sikorsky RAH-66 Comanche programme was cancelled. The contract is worth $2.2 billion and the US Army expects to acquire 368 ARHs.

Bell will now focus on the build and functional test of the remaining three aircraft, with the US Army scheduled to perform a limited user's test later this year. Bell aims to ship the first fully-equipped unit in 2008 for entry into service late 2008 and start full-scale production by 2009.
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