The Bell 525 on display with Bristow livery at Heli-Expo 2018 in Las Vegas.
FAA certification of the Bell 525 Relentless is now estimated for 2019, but Bell confirms production of the fly-by-wire helicopter is underway for first deliveries soon after certification.
Bell's Larry Thimmesch,VP of Bell 525 sales and business development, told reporters Feb. 28 at Heli-Expo in Las Vegas the aircraft successfully completed its 50-foot drop test of its fuel system the day prior — a test required toward the certification process. The manufacturer hopes to complete all certification requirements by the end of this year for final FAA certification in early 2019, and EASA and Transport Canada certifications to follow.
There are currently two prototype aircraft flying, with one from Bell's facility in Amarillo, Texas, expected to fly soon and a fourth to fly by the end of 2018. Together, the test aircraft have flown a total of 500 hours.
Certification of the aircraft had been previously estimated by the end of 2018. It had been pushed from its initial target due to the No. 1 prototype having crashed and impacted terrain near Italy, Texas, July 16, 2016, after the tail boom separated from the fuselage in flight. The NTSB found severe vibration to be the probable cause.
Flight testing on the 525 has resumed July 2017. Bell said its implementations for the flight test program post-crash include a software filter for the collective control law, among others.
Bell said it has received various interest in a full ice protection system for the aircraft and expects to start full icing trials at the end of 2019. The system can be retrofitted to aircraft after delivery.
Also part of its testing has been implementing a flight crew operating manual (FCOM), which is not required for certification and fully within Bell's testing timeline, Thimmesch said. It's the first FCOM Bell has developed for its commercial aircraft, though it has done them for its military aircraft programs. Bell is working with HeliOffshore to make the FCOM available for the oil and gas market first.
The aircraft is being developed for interests across the search and rescue, oil and gas, and VIP market sectors. Long term, Bell expects the oil and gas sector to dominate that pool.
Part of the aircraft's appeal is its multi-role functionality as a "super medium" helicopter. Thimmesch said the 525 has been designed more along the lines of an airliner and will require only an estimated 1.3 maintenance hours for every flight hour. Typically heavy aircraft require two to four maintenance hours for every flight hour.
Bell has received an estimated 80 letters of intent for the aircraft but has yet to publicly name those customers. Bell said Bristow has signed a memorandum of understanding at Heli-Expo for the 525's possible configuration of a search and rescue helicopter.