ORLANDO, Fla. ---In the lead-up to first flight of the world's first civil tiltrotor, the BA609 is being prepared for ground run testing at Bell Helicopter's Flight Research Center in Arlington, Texas.
While four (4) BA609's are in the development program, efforts are currently focused on bringing BA609 serial number 001 to first flight quickly and safely. Set to begin in April, Ground tests on the BA609 will test the powerplant, hydraulics, electrical systems and overall design conformity prior to the aircraft's first flight this summer.
Thus far, testing has gone well, with hydraulic proof pressure tests completed in December 2001, electrical systems testing completed in January 2002, and system functional tests underway. The critical next step involves flight control software checkout in the Vehicle Management System Integration Laboratory (VMSIL), after which the aircraft will undergo ground runs followed by first flight.
The VMSIL lab uses actual aircraft components, identical to those on the BA609, to simulate what would happen under different flight conditions. There are test benches for each system, including Avionics, Flight Controls, Hydraulics and Electrical Systems. The VMSIL provides an integration platform for "flying" the BA609 using actual cockpit avionics before first flight even occurs.
By using a mock BA609 cockpit, the VMSIL can use a simulation math model and a synthetic visual image to provide "flight" inputs to the Flight Control Computer and Avionics subsystems. This allows test pilots and lab technicians to test the aircraft systems and adjust or improve as necessary before the aircraft ever leaves the ground.
With the VMSIL testing of the avionics complete, and with hydraulic, electrical, and powerplant testing complete, the aircraft will be ready for first flight. After initial hover tests, envelope expansion throughout the conversion corridor all the way to airplane mode will be documented in order to achieve a full flight manual certification database. After the envelope expansion, kit development and maturation flying, customer deliveries will begin.
Bell/Agusta Aerospace Company (BAAC) is a joint venture between Bell Helicopter, a Textron company, and Agusta SpA, an Agusta-Westland company, to design, develop, produce and market the BA 609 civil tiltrotor and the AB139, which is a new, modern twin engine helicopter.
BAAC reports receiving more than 80 advance orders for the 609 tiltrotor from 42 different customers in 18 different countries.
Final assembly for production aircraft will take place at Bell's Amarillo, Texas, facility with another assembly line to be established at the Agusta plant in Italy. Fuji Heavy Industries of Japan has the contract to build all of the production fuselages for the BA609. All parts and components for both lines will come from the exact same source yielding aircraft that will be identical whether assembled in Italy or Texas. Headquarters for the Bell/Agusta Aerospace Company is located at Alliance Airport in Fort Worth, Texas. BA609 customer training will be conducted at this location, which will also serve as a delivery center.
With its nacelles and rotors in the vertical position, the tiltrotor is able to take-off, land and hover like a traditional helicopter. When the nacelles and rotors are tilted forward to the horizontal position, the aircraft is able to fly with the high speed and range of a turboprop fixed wing airplane. The transition from helicopter mode to airplane mode normally takes less than one minute, as does the transition from airplane mode to helicopter mode.
This versatile capability enables the BA609 to fly with twice the speed and range of conventional helicopters. The BA609 will cruise at 275 knots with a maximum unrefueled range of 750 nautical miles, 1,000 nautical miles with auxiliary fuel tanks.
The aircraft in standard configuration is pressurized to fly at altitudes up to 25,000 feet and incorporates ice protection to allow flight into known icing conditions.