AgustaWestland has bought out Bell’s share in the BA609 tiltrotor program and is now expecting certification in 2015—12 years after the first flight—with deliveries beginning “immediately afterwards.” After years of discussions, the two helicopter manufacturers have found an agreement that was signed in June, just before the Paris Air Show. The European company is saying it is now “fully committed to proceed rapidly.”
Bell Agusta Aerospace Co. (BAAC) will be renamed but will remain a U.S. company, being the type certificate applicant to the FAA. AgustaWestland will take full ownership of BAAC under the agreement, which is subject to regulatory approvals from European and U.S. authorities. The civil tiltrotor program, the first of its kind, will be renamed AW609.
Bell will “remain involved in the design and certification of AW609 components,” according to Larry Roberts, senior vice president of the manufacturer’s Commercial business unit. When the aircraft reaches the production phase, the U.S. firm will be a supplier. Roberts told Rotor & Wing that, according to the agreement, his company will provide “engineering support” to AgustaWestland. He made it clear that no “V-22 technology will be transferred to the BA609.”
As soon as this autumn, a single “integrated development team” will manage the program in Cascina Costa, near Milan, Italy, where one of the two prototypes is based. In Arlington, Texas, where the other prototype is located, AgustaWestland will open “a new operational base.” Two more aircraft will be assembled at Cascina Costa. Prototype #3 will be used for icing certification testing, for both EASA and FAA approvals. AgustaWestland says it is targeting commercial and government markets.
The BA609 made its first flight in 2003 in Arlington. Since then, the program’s schedule has repeatedly moved to the right. Bell’s and AgustaWestland’s respective shares in the program were believed to be 60/40. The BA609 is a nine-passenger aircraft, flown by two pilots. Powered by two Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6C-67A turboshafts, it is designed to cruise at a maximum 275 kts. Its maximum range is around 700 nm.