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This month, Bell hosted the LO Helicopter Committee, the Norwegian Union for the oil-and-gas and search-and-rescue (SAR) sectors, to experience the Bell 525 at Bell’s flight research center in Arlington, Texas. The event lasted a couple of days packed with dedicated briefings, visits to various Bell sites as well as flight demonstrations.
When it comes to operations in the North Sea, the LO Helicopter Committee shared their thoughts on the new technologies that the Bell 525 will bring to the market for this sector and how they think it will affect safety.
“We are very pleased to have visited Bell and to have learned more about the Bell 525,” said Henrik S. Fjeldsbø, chairman of the LO Helicopter Committee. “It gave us a unique opportunity to share our input on its capabilities.”
Bell designed the Bell 525 to deliver a generational leap forward with fly-by-wire flight controls, drive system performance and fully integrated vehicle health monitoring.
“The Bell 525 is an incredibly smart helicopter that reduces the probability of the pilot making a mistake,” said Michael Hougaard, member of the LO Helicopter Committee and a pilot flying daily in the North Sea. “It’s amazing that the machine predicts what the pilot wants. That means that as a pilot, I can focus on keeping track of the mission, which is crucial for safety in the North Sea.”
The Bell 525 will be the first commercial aircraft certified with fly-by-wire which greatly increases safety through reduced pilot workload and enhanced situational awareness. It means that the pilot can focus on other aspects of the flight or mission and also provides increased performance and stability. The Bell 525 rotor drive system will set a new industry benchmark for robustness and run-dry capability; this minimizes single point failures and complies with the latest European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) rules for run-dry performance.
Helicopter pilot Torstein Sandven, who spent time on the Bell 525 full-flight simulator, said: “The Bell 525 will be an extremely good platform that will take operations to the next level. We welcome all new technology that contributes to increased safety, and I have high expectations for this machine. The modern technology reduces workload from the pilots and gives us increased situational awareness. I think this will be a very good machine in terms of performing safe and secure operations in the North Sea.”
The aircraft is also equipped with the most advanced integrated vehicle health management (IVHM) and health and usage monitoring system (HUMS), allowing maintainers to easily diagnose failures and quickly return the aircraft to service. The IVHM system is fully supported by Bell through Mission Link allowing operators to access how their aircraft is performing relative to all other aircraft in the fleet.
Helicopter technician and representative on the committee, Tom Stian Beitland, was impressed with the maintenance manual that is fully digital and includes 3D renderings: “In short, it means that the entire machine is built in 3D and linked together with the maintenance manual. This makes it easier for us technicians to find components and procedures. It will help increase efficiency in troubleshooting if any problems arise.”
The spacious cabin accommodates two pilots and up to 16 passengers. It can easily be reconfigured due to its fully flat floors. Kjetil Larsen, who is a daily rescuer on a SAR helicopter in the North Sea, wanted to check if the cabin was large enough to be used as an offshore rescue helicopter. “We filled the cabin with as many people as we could find. We fit 23 people on board, and yet there was room for more. That means the machine passed the test of being able to save 21 people in need.”
The Bell 525 helicopter is at the center of the safety conversation at the SOLA conference in Norway this week. Bell said it is proud of the new outstanding technologies that it has engineered and is currently testing meticulously with the FAA and EASA.
To continue the conversation, Bell’s 525 program director, Byron Ward, will give a presentation at SOLA on Monday, Sept. 16 at 1:25 p.m.