Textron reported Wednesday in a fourth-quarter earnings call that overall quarterly revenues were down from last year, stemming from its Bell Helicopter, Systems and (fixed-wing) Aviation subsidiaries.
Despite a slight increase in sales of military platforms, such as the H1, Textron said Bell’s fourth-quarter commercial revenues were down to roughly $36 million as a result of a lower aftermarket volume and a change in the mixture of commercial aircraft delivered during the quarter. Bell shipped 56 commercial helicopters compared to 57 last fourth quarter.
Textron noted in particular a strong quarterly market for light helicopters but a challenging one for their medium counterparts, such as the 412, which experienced a lower sales volume in 2015. The company said it expects a continuing soft market for medium aircraft in 2016.
A light-leaning market environment might be a mixed blessing given Bell’s aircraft in development, the light 505 Jet Ranger X and the medium-lift 525 Relentless. Textron said it feels good about customer demand for the 505. Bell currently has three test aircraft and is targeting the 505’s certification and entry to service for later this year.
With regards to the 525, Textron CEO Scott Donnelly said there still is “a fair amount of time to see what that market will look like,” given that Bell is roughly 1.5 years away from delivering its first production aircraft. Donnelly said Bell has secured at least 80 letters of agreement for the aircraft from customers worldwide. The company also plans for the first time to fly a 525 to Heli-Expo, which will be held this year in Louisville, Kentucky. According to Donnelly, the expo will give Bell a chance to gauge market interest. Donnelly explained that perceived demand from international customers for Bell’s 429 platform might give Bell “a feel for how things are going with the 525.”
Earlier, Bell provided R&WI with a summary of its 525 testing as of Jan. 20. The company has accumulated 78 flight test hours with FTV1 and FTV2, its two developmental and envelope expansion aircraft. FTV1 has been accumulating flight test hours at the company’s Xworx facility in Arlington, Texas, and is slated for cold-weather testing next month.
FTV2 achieved its first flight on Dec. 21, performing several successful tests in ground effect with approximately 15-kt winds. Tests included: hovering and hover taxiing; 360-degree pedal clearing turns; full-range flight control inputs with the cyclic, collective and pedals; and low speed controllability in lateral, forward and rearward flight. Additionally, each test was performed both with and without the aircraft’s optional fly-by-wire capability.
Bell is planning to unveil a third flight test vehicle in the first quarter of 2016 to act as its load survey aircraft, which Bell said makes it “even more instrumented than FTV1 and FTV2.”
In addition to the three flight test vehicles, Bell will build two pre-production aircraft configured for search-and-rescue and oil-and-gas industries, respectively. Both are scheduled to fly later this year and will be used for general certification and certification of kits.
Finally, Bell is currently working on two production aircraft that will eventually go to customers.