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BA609: Very Different Tones

By Commentary by Andrew Drwiega, Military Editor | March 7, 2011

As much as AgustaWestland CEO Giuseppe Orsi showed exuberance, even impatience on Saturday in his desire to bring the BA609 online and begin to ramp up its much-delayed testing program, Bell Helicopter’s CEO John Garrison was remarkably tight-lipped about his company’s desire to achieve the same thing a day later.

“It will take further work on the BA609 with our partners before we can move forward,” he said. “We are still trying to find the best way to bring the transformational technology to market.” Bell’s original XV-3 tiltrotor was first flown in August 1955. The data from this program was then passed over into the XV-15, which was launched in 1971. Bell/Boeing-Vertol got together on the program in 1972 and when Boeing pulled out in 1998 Agusta stepped into the breach—and the Bell/Agusta 609 was born.

So 13 years have passed since that partnership was formed. The V-22 Osprey, despite accidents that nearly caused its cancellation, has grown in strength and deliveries to the U.S. Marine Corps and Air Force are ramping along. New technologies are coming though—speed with Sikorsky’s X2 and speed with optimized performance is the aim of Eurocopter’s X³. There are even suggestions of optionally manned platforms. But amid all this, Bell remains defensive, even secretive of its intentions and commitments in bringing the BA609 to market. The two partners are speaking in very different tones about a ‘running back of an aircraft’ that may require a ‘hail Mary’ burst of action to get it into the end zone before the game ends!
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