The world’s first civil tiltrotor, the Bell/Agusta Aerospace BA609 took its maiden flight last Friday.
The nine-passenger aircraft, jointly developed by Bell Helicopter, a Textron company and by Agusta, an AgustaWestland company, hovered at an altitude of 50 ft, performed left and right peddle turns, both forward and aft flight manoeuvres, four take-offs and landings, nacelle position changes and stability testing for 0.6 flight hours (36 minutes) before setting down.
The first flight followed seven weeks of ground runs and taxi testing that were conducted at Bell’s Flight Research Centre in Arlington, Texas.
With its rotors in the vertical position, the tiltrotor is able to take-off, land and hover like a traditional helicopter. When the rotors are tilted forward to the horizontal position, the aircraft is able to fly similar to a turboprop fixed-wing aeroplane. The transition from helicopter mode to aeroplane mode takes 20 seconds, as does the transition from aeroplane mode to helicopter mode.
The BA609, a six to nine passenger aircraft, is expected to be certified by the FAA in 2007 with first deliveries to begin immediately afterwards.
Bell/Agusta will produce a total of four prototype tiltrotor aircraft for flight-testing. Final assembly for production aircraft will take place at Bell’s Amarillo, Texas, facility with another assembly line to be established at the Agusta plant in Italy.
Fuji Heavy Industries of Japan has the contract to build all of the production fuselages for the BA609. All parts and components for both lines will come from the exact same source, yielding aircraft that will be identical whether assembled in Italy or Texas.