Bell Helicopter managed to fly the prototype of its 429 light single IFR aircraft two days before Heli-Expo. But the manufacturer’s news at the show was that it has stretched out development of the aircraft to better manage risk in the program.
Bell originally had planned to fly the 429 by the end of 2006 and gain certification and start deliveries by the end of this year. But program officials encountered some development challenges, including the aircraft’s twin, counter-rotating, two-bladed tail rotors. When Bell’s executive director of commercial programs, Bill Stromberg, briefed new President and CEO Richard Millman on the program’s hope of flying before Heli-Expo, Millman said, he advised Stromberg to fly when the aircraft was ready.
The first flight of the Pratt & Whitney Canada PW207D-powered prototype was reported to have occurred Feb. 27 at Bell Helicopter Canada’s plant in Mirabel, Quebec, outside Montreal. Two pilots took turns hovering the aircraft in ground effect at altitudes of 15-40 ft. (4.5-12 m). They flew a second flight several hours later. They hovered the aircraft forward, aft, and sideways flight and reported "absolutely no problems," Stromberg said.
Internal and external reviews of risk in the program last year led Bell to add five months of leeway to the 429 development schedule, which now calls for certification by mid-2008.