Draw it, build it, and test it. That’s the immediate process for the brand new Bell 505 JetRanger X.
It’s a similar story for the brand new manufacturing facility that’s being created to build the aircraft in Lafayette, La. The concurrent development is an ambitious, but necessary, undertaking given the short timeframe the company has given itself to achieve first flight (by end of this year), and certification (by end of 2015).
The 505 marks Bell’s return to the light single engine game, following the company’s decision to discontinue production on the 206B JetRanger in 2009.
Powered by the 504 shaft-horsepower Turbomeca Arrius 2R engine with dual channel full authority digital engine control (FADEC), the 505 promises a useful load of 1,500 pounds, a cruise speed of 125 knots, and a range of 360 to 420 nautical miles. It will also meet IATA Stage 4 noise targets.
“From the time of dropping the 206B until the 505 launch, we did a lot of learning about what the market wanted,” said Paul Watts, Bell 505 program director. “We took a step back. Our strong customer base wanted us back in the game, but with much more than just a III version of the 206B. The specially formed customer advisory council [CAC] desires included a flat floor, open cabin, and a glass panel.”
To that end, the 505 will sport a high visibility cockpit and a fully flat, 22-square-foot cabin floor with five forward-facing seats. (The 505 design also includes an 18 cubic foot baggage compartment.) The aircraft’s glass panel will be the Garmin G1000H integrated avionics suite, a fully-integrated flight deck that was first introduced by the manufacturer on the Bell 407GX.
Another retention from the Bell light legacy is the 206L-4 rotor system. Not only was integrating a proven rotor system a smart move for design costs, but in doing so the 505 also retains the renowned Bell two-bladed auto-rotational characteristics. However, some changes will be made from the 206L-4 including improved torsion-tension straps and a redesigned system for mounting the rotor and dampening vibrations.
The CAC also wanted the price point to be competitive with other entry level turbine helicopters. “The focus is on cost,” said Watts. “Our engineers are watching parts being built — watching the entire process. For example, how many men are needed for the tail boom — can we design it differently so as to take only one man instead of two?”
A recent tour of the 505 design facility at the Bell plant in Hurst, Texas, revealed a unique combination of old and new school. The design work was being done on computers, including a systems integration lab working on G1000H to Turbomeca engine communication software. But right next to that station was a good old fashioned wooden full-size initial cabin mock-up, to provide a first look and feel of the new open-floor cabin design. Subsequent mock-ups show the evolution of the design.
Initial assembly and flight testing will be done at Bell’s Mirabel, Que., facility. The project will take concurrent critical paths to certification, with the first type certificate coming from Transport Canada before the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Although a strange-sounding path for other U.S.-based design-build companies, it is a typical process for Bell. “We have familiarity with the process, we can draw on  L-4 experience in Mirabel, and there is no overload on the FAA in Fort Worth — who is heavily involved in the 525,” stated Watts.
But when it comes to actually building the production aircraft, this will be handled in Bell’s new plant in Lafayette, La., which is at the Lafayette Regional Airport. Paul Watts has accepted the position of general manager of the facility, but will also maintain his current position as Bell 505 program manager through the end of the year.
Bell will lease the 82,300-square-foot facility from the airport. Construction will begin on the 14.5-acre site this month, with aircraft assembly operations expected to start by 2016 following certification of the facility and the aircraft.
As for the aircraft itself, the first engine test has already been accomplished. Bell, Turbomeca, and the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) are all working diligently to have the engine released in time for the first flight schedule.
“Our supply partners are on schedule,” said Watts. “Plus the design is already accounting for popular kits — like the hook for example. The keel beams will be prepped, as well as the skin panels. We plan to have the necessary STC’s [supplemental type certificates] for various kits ready shortly after certification, and our delivery schedules for specific aircraft will factor in STC time.”
As far as production rate, Bell wouldn’t share their detailed projection. However, Watts did say the manufacturer is working with its suppliers to support a schedule that exceeds the historical ramp-up demonstrated by Robinson Helicopters. Indeed, the latter’s highly popular R66 Turbine is clearly in the gun sight of the 505.
“Our ramp up will be more aggressive than when the 407 first entered service in 1996,” said Watts. The 505 production schedule better be aggressive. Because with over 200 heavily deposited letters of intent — most of them being from small operators and former 206 owners — the SLS 505 JetRanger X is the most widely anticipated helicopter to come from Bell in quite a long time.