Bell, a brand of Textron Inc, is one of the best known brands in the world in the development and production of commercial and military aircraft and helicopters. For over 80 years on the market, Bell has introduced innovation and technologies in the aviation sector that have led to the success of various aircraft such as, for example, the Bell family helicopters 206, 205 and 412 or the modern V-22 Osprey tiltrotors, technology introduced on the market right by the Bell.
Today that success is carried forward by the Bell 505, a single-engine helicopter designed to be the safest and easiest aircraft to fly in its category and with a very affordable cost, by the Bell 429 a twin-engine helicopter that winks at the old continent market thanks to its modular cabin that lends itself well to covering the most varied missions and the innovative Bell 525 Relentless, the first commercial helicopter in the world with fly-by-wire controls. We talked about these three helicopter models with Duncan Van De Velde, Managing Director of Bell Europe and Russia.
Aviation Report / Emanuele Ferretti: Duncan let’s talk about the Bell 505, which customers is this type of helicopter aimed at?
Bell / Duncan Van De Velde: The Bell 505 offers the most flexible and adaptable platform of any helicopter in its class. This makes it extremely capable across a diverse range of mission sets such as the corporate sector, utility, public safety, sightseeing tours and training. It’s an aircraft that works as well for private pilots as it does for commercial operators.
What are the main construction, performance and technological characteristics of the aircraft and what are the peculiarities that distinguish it?
The Bell 505 delivers outstanding performance within the light single class. The Safran Arrius 2R engine delivers a max continuous output of 459 shp, enabling the 505 to cruise at 125 kts. The Bell 505 features an array of technology usually only seen on helicopters from the class above, such as the latest Garmin G1000NXi avionics, dual channel FADEC-controlled engine and optional Genesys Aerosystems HeliSAS Autipilot and Stability Augmentation System.
The 505 has clamshell doors on the co-pilot side to provide a wide opening for easy access, and large cabin windows provide excellent visibility for both the pilot and passengers. Quick disconnect seats means the 505’s cabin can be easily adapted to suit any passenger or cargo carrying requirements. The interior and exterior of the 505 are highly customizable, so customers can configure the aircraft to their perfect specification.
Costs and machine availability are topics that are always very important for end users, especially in the single-engine category: what has been done on this helicopter to reduce maintenance costs?
The Bell 505 reduces maintenance costs in a few different ways to make it an economical machine for all missions. The first is utilizing reliable legacy systems like the Long Ranger rotor and drive system that has been iterated and improved upon for three decades. There are also numerous maintenance facilities that know how to work on the system which enhances training requirement efficiencies. This applies to the Safran Arrius 2R engine in which the hot section has flown over 3 million hours in a variety of products across the industry.
The other way is by leveraging the MSG-3 maintenance program that the airline industry has developed and employed. MSG-3 maintenance is a way to logically group maintenance events using a team of industry professionals to minimize aircraft down time. An example of this is the group of maintenance tasks by zone. When an engineer goes into that zone, if something is not due but easily done, that task could be completed anyway to eliminate the need for the aircraft to make a second trip to the maintenance facility.
Lastly, because the Bell 505 uses a digital engine control called a FADEC, it enables the computer to control fuel flow and select the more efficient profile for flying and therefore reduce fuel burn.
The single-engine market is a market in great turmoil and the competition is always very active: how does the Bell 505 differ from competing helicopters?
The Bell 505 identifies a niche in the market by combining the capabilities and technology of much larger aircraft with the reduced running costs required by the light single market. By doing this, it offers the perfect solution for a diverse range of missions. For example, as a utility aircraft, the Bell 505 is FAA and EASA approved to carry up to an impressive 907 kg with its optional cargo hook. This enables operators to take on a multitude of cargo transportation missions but at a significantly lower cost than if a bigger aircraft were used. Similarly, the Bell 505 provides the ideal training solution for pilots which will need to transition to larger aircraft, such as those in the military.
Why has the single-engine market never taken off in Europe?
In some missions, there are great examples of single engine aircraft doing fantastic work all over Europe. There are over 60 505s flying around Europe doing anything from corporate travel to powerline inspection. Part of the hold back is the restriction on single engine aircraft to perform specific missions or fly over certain cities. Turbine engines continuously get more reliable each year with improving technology and have demonstrated reliable flight all over the world for decades.
Let’s talk about the Bell 429: what are the main constructive, performance and technological characteristics of this aircraft and what are the peculiarities that distinguish it?
The Bell 429 offers a highly adaptable, flexible and capable platform in its class. This is why it’s found popularity with the law enforcement, HEMS, energy and corporate sectors around the world and achieved almost 500,000 proven flight hours in vastly different terrains and climates. The Bell 429 is able to offer stand-out performance in these sectors as it benefits from ultra-smooth flight at all speeds and low vibration. In addition, it’s able to deliver a higher top speed and therefore a reduction in response time when compared to its competitors.
The Bell 429 has one of largest cabins in its class – essential for HEMS missions, while the two Pratt & Whitney engines with FADEC deliver exceptional performance for a twin-engine aircraft. It’s equipped with a fully integrated glass cockpit, advanced drive system, best-in-class WAAS navigation, with single-pilot and optional dual-pilot, IFR capability. The Bell 429 also benefits from Bell’s reputation for outstanding aftermarket support, superior maintenance programs and renowned reliability.
The Bell 429 is equipped with the ESG Management System: what is innovative about this system?
In 2020, Bell announced its collaboration agreement with ESG to install their Mission Management System in a Bell 429 as a law enforcement demonstrator. The new demonstrator will be used to showcase the aircraft’s capabilities to the police and military markets in Europe and across the globe, making its first public debut at European Rotors in Cologne, Germany this November.
In Europe, the Bell 429 equipped with ESG’s Mission Management System is the definitive platform for public safety missions. For these missions, the 429 can be equipped with specialized equipment including an infrared camera, searchlight, removeable and sliding doors, wire strike protection system, optional auxiliary fuel tank, fast rope insertion/extraction system and an equipment operator station with two 17” HD displays. The twin-engine aircraft is already in use with several European law enforcement customers, including the Swedish National Police (SNP), Slovakian Police and Turkish National Police.
The Bell 429 has been chosen by police and military forces from all over the world but we know that the same helicopter has been chosen to carry out multiple missions: can you tell us more about it?
As well as law enforcement and militaries, the Bell 429 is an equally outstanding aircraft for many other segments such as corporate travel, Helicopter Emergency Medical Services (HEMS), and oil and gas. The 429 can be configured to the exact requirements of each customer.
Let’s talk about the latest addition to the Bell house: the 525. How is the development of this helicopter progressing?
Bell 525 team is currently engaged with the FAA on TIA flight testing and is submitting certification artifacts to the FAA in parallel. Bell will continue to provide updates as it meets additional milestones. Most recently, we opened a 525 Experience Center in Norway with the aim of showcasing the 525’s capabilities to Norwegian customers who perform missions in oil and gas, search and rescue (SAR) and military operations. In particular, we see great potential in the offshore market which is why we have collaborated with oil and gas operator Wintershall Dea Norge AS to bring enhanced helicopter operational safety to the North Sea.
What kind of customers is it aimed at and what kind of missions has it been designed for?
We see the most potential with the 525 in offshore missions (oil and gas and SAR) but also in militaries and with VVIP corporate customers.
When will we see it fly to Italy? Are you planning a demo tour?
We just completed a demo tour in the US and aim to follow this with a European tour.
There is a lot of talk about reducing fuel consumption and the low noise impact of helicopters: how are you working to make your helicopters more sustainable?
Bell currently has a large focus on making its helicopters more sustainable, both in terms of production and in operation. We just announced that the Bell 525 has completed its first flight using Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) from Avfuel which estimates a 22-metric ton reduction in life cycle carbon emissions per truck load. This follows on from our announcement of becoming the first manufacturer to use SAF in our training and demonstrator fleet.
New aircraft like the Bell 525 offer class-leading fuel efficiency, with the 525 benefitting from a 30% lower fuel burn rate than some of its competitors. It also offers a significant reduction in noise levels compared to older models. In addition, Bell continues to develop new technologies which aim to optimise fuel efficiency, such our Electrically Distributed Anti-torque (EDAT) technology which is currently being tested on a Bell 429. This also brings the added benefit of a reduction in noise.
We have projects such as our eVTOL Autonomous Pod Transport (APT) – an example of an all-electric platform which Bell engineers are currently working on.
What is the future of single-engine helicopters for Bell helicopters?
The single engine helicopter market continues to be strong in a variety of segments from private ownership to public safety and Helicopter Emergency Medical Services (HEMS). There’s truly a place for both singles and twins in the market. The continuous improvement in engine reliability combined with the cost efficiency of single engine aircraft versus twin-engines will continue to keep this market strong for those missions and especially emerging markets. Whether current production aircraft like the Bell 505 and Bell 407GXi or legacy heavy lifting Bell singles, the Bell brand has strong roots and a strong future in the single engine market.
Aviation Report and the author would like to thank Bell and Duncan Van De Velde for their willingness to grant us this interview.
Interview by Emanuele Ferretti Photo credits: Bell