Successfully completing phase one of what will be the world’s first civil certification of a tiltrotor aircraft, veteran convertiplane pilot Roy Hopkins recently found himself in possession of something he hadn’t had much of in the last few months: spare time.
Agusta officials have revealed they are currently negotiating with Bell to increase the share the Italian manufacturer holds in the BA609 tiltrotor program. Currently at 25 percent for Agusta and 75 percent for Bell, the workshare may eventually become “close to 50/50,” Agusta CEO Amedeo Caporaletti said.
Just when it looks like the V-22 Osprey program might have a good day, the fates conspire to create more clouds on the horizon.
Proving perhaps that nothing sweeps cleaner than a new broom, Bell Helicopter CEO Mike Redenbaugh, in the job since late May, has announced plans to move Bell’s military helicopter manufacturing out of its historic Fort Worth, Texas facility and into a new site in Amarillo, Texas. The Amarillo site will also handle final assembly for the V-22 Osprey tiltrotor, according to a recent message from Redenbaugh.
AgustaWestland appointed former Bell CEO John Murphey to run Agusta-WestlandBell (AWB), the joint-venture company formed to manage the US-101 helicopter program. The US-101 and Sikorsky S-92 are the two finalists in the competition to replace the current fleet of Marine One helicopters that carry the President.
Bowing to some inevitable delays after September 11, Bell/Agusta Aerospace reports assembly of the first two BA609 tiltrotors is nearing completion, with engine runups slated to begin this month. First flight is still scheduled to take place at Bell’s Arlington, Texas flight research center before the end of the year, although industry observers have expressed skepticism that this deadline can be met.
Bell Helicopter last month officially opened its worldwide sales, support and training headquarters at Alliance Airport in Fort Worth, Texas. The facility, originally built in 1999 for Galaxy Aerospace, will also serve as the delivery center and training school for the Bell/Agusta BA609 tiltrotor.
The BA609 tiltrotor that flew at the Paris Air Show put on an impressive display, but potential buyers said they had misgivings about the hybrid design. Several of the operators interviewed deemed the aircraft’s performance “fabulous,” if only in theory.
Bell and Agusta continue their development of the BA609 civil tiltrotor, a joint effort that has been ongoing for more than a decade. However, the future of the program may hinge on the joint venture’s ability to control program costs, speed certification and deliveries, as well as the success of the first squadron of military tiltrotors about to deploy to Iraq.
The Bell/Agusta BA609 civil tiltrotor program is moving forward, according to a Bell spokesman, with two more flight-test ships scheduled to join the two already flying over the next 18 months. However, there are some indications that the program, now into its 10th year, is beginning to falter.