|We have lift off: the new Bell 505 Jet Ranger X on its inaugural flight. (Photo courtesy of Bell Helicopter)
The 505 Jet Ranger X was designed based on extensive input provided by those in the field – the Bell team worked closely with a Customer Advisory Council (CAC) to help create a machine that lives up to the highest operator demands. So, when the aircraft powered into the sky at the company’s Mirabel, Que. test facility for the aircraft’s inaugural flight in early November with Bell test pilots Yann Lavelle (senior test pilot) and Eric Emblin in the flight deck, it marked a new era in Bell’s history.
“The aircraft performed exactly as anticipated today,” Lavelle enthused, after taking the helicopter for a 30-minute flight over Mirabel. It performed two laps flanked by a Bell 429 and also hovered. “I was excited to be part of the history of the Jet Ranger 505 X legacy today, an aircraft that has defined the market nearly 50 years ago.”
Added Emblin: “We hovered in the aircraft, performed a low-speed controllability assessment and flew two laps in the local traffic pattern. Our top speed today was 60 knots.”
One of three new aircraft currently under development by Bell – including the 525 Relentless and the V-280 Valor tilt rotor for the U.S. Department of Defense – the 505 Jet Ranger should be a strong player in the single-engine turbine market. It’s one 505 Jet Ranger X Program Manager David Smith knows has plenty of potential. And with the first flight now in the books, the program is definitely on target to meet all objectives.
“When we went to market, we felt pretty confident that we could meet the expectations outlined by John Garrison at Heli-Expo,” Smith told Helicopters. “The discussions around it were a late 2014 first flight and the internal objectives were to accelerate that for prudence mostly, for getting ourselves in a position where we can get early learning from our flight-test pilots. A lot of things you learn just as soon as you get it off the ground, flight dynamics and structural dynamics. We wanted to get in the air quickly for the learning opportunity, but there is also a compelling opportunity to get the aircraft to market just a little bit faster. At this point we are well on track to meet our objectives.”
Bell’s intent is to certify the aircraft early in 2016 and offer, as quickly as possible for the markets that accept it, to have Transport Canada certify it. Bell is also working with EASA and the FAA to ensure it has seamless validations of the type design.
“We will begin deliveries in 2016 in earnest, but it will really depend on how fast we can work through the validations for the other nations that are wanting the aircraft,” Smith said. “In this case, we have a very global customer base so we have a lot of validations to go through. So, 2016 is the year.”
Smith was pleasantly surprised after evaluating the aircraft following the first flight. A lot of time was spent on minute details and just getting a sense of the aircraft itself – how it responds, the general feeling out the controls and more.
“We got a lot of confidence very quickly,” Smith said. “The first flight did not intend necessarily to get to the high speeds that we got to, but we did some up-and-away flying towards the end of the pilot’s card. We got a very good sense of the way the aircraft handles – it is very stable in flight.”
A lot of time was also spent on the accessory systems, Smith added. “For the test flight, it got a little bit darker outside than we are used to with a lot of first test flights,” he said. “We usually do our first test flights earlier in the day, the weather is clearer which makes it easier to fly, but we flew later that day then originally intended. So, we actually tried out the landing lights, the landing light location etc. And we have to do some tweaking because it didn’t quite get the distribution that we need, the overall spread in terms of distance. Those are small details but there are things that you like to find now, so that you can go and quickly fix them rather than go through a full flight test program. That’s the kind of thing we saw with the first flight.”
The test team also spent plenty of time evaluating the instrumentation. “When you have a complicated instrumentation package, in many ways, it can be more complicated than the aircraft it self,” Smith said. “That can cause teething pains when you get in the air, making sure all the signals work consistently with the variety of things that can cause them to go array.”
The Big Picture
Ask Smith to get out his crystal ball and hypothesize about where he sees the market going for the 505 Jet Ranger X, and it doesn’t take him take him long to dive right in. The most important market is general utility. Bell’s research teams have spent countless hours studying this market segment and much of that expertise comes from experiences with older Jet Rangers in service today.
|The Bell 505 Jet Ranger X team in the early stages of assembly. (Photo courtesy of Bell Helicopter)
The Canadian market with its multiple resource-based industries is obviously a fit, and both Bell test pilots should be familiar with this type of flying – both have countless hours flying utility missions. “The pilots that we use for the experimental program have spent a lot of their lives flying here, doing utility work and more. Their feedback has been instrumental in determining the small things that really make the aircraft a utility pleaser. But we will also extend this aircraft in some other areas such as air tourism, which is a market that has shown growth for us. With all five forward facing seats, large glass aperture windows, really it’s just a great view for an aircraft of its price point.”
Electronic News Gathering (ENG) is another strong application, Smith maintains. When you factor in the price point, size of the cabin and the comfort, as well as viewing capabilities in trying to visualize an accident scene or a car chase, it’s easy to see this aircraft as a logical fit.
“It is a very accessible machine for a lot of operators,” Smith said. “I think our main competitor right now would be Robinson’s R-66. Robinson has done a great job of identifying that there is a market for value-priced, entry-level turbine aircraft, so this is a huge opportunity for us to go and pursue this market. It was one of things that we considered early in program development. There are other strong competitors in this class and we focused on our knowledge internally of this customer segment through the Jet Ranger fleet. We fully expect we will have a strong opportunity for replacement in this segment with other Jet Rangers as they reach the useful end of their lives.”
And with more than 240 letters of intent just prior the New Year, operators are obviously taking note. “The feedback we have had from a number of our customers is helping us understand the segment, particularly in austere environments like the far north in Canada,” Smith said. “We also have quite a number of customers in Australia who are very interested in this product for its ruggedness in terms of its ability to do things others can’t. This aircraft should be a real confidence booster for those rugged, austere operators.”
The Road Ahead
Testing for the Bell 505 Jet Ranger X is ongoing and will ramp up early in the New Year, which will help with the envelope expansion, expanding the speed and altitude, weight and CG combinations, confidence in the flight handling qualities and flight dynamic.
|The later flight time enabled pilots to make additional tests on the 505 Jet Ranger X.
(Photo courtesy of Bell Helicopter)
|A team effort: the Bell 505 Jet Ranger X crew with their new bird. (Photo courtesy of Bell Helicopter)
Currently, the 505 Jet Ranger X team is working in different camps, with the flight testing team at the Mirabel, Que. facility doing flight testing; a team in Texas doing production and design release and supplier coordination before ramping into production; and a third team doing construction on the facility in Lafayette, La.
The Final Word
Ask Smith about the future of the program and the role he plays in its ultimate success, and he simply can’t stop beaming. It’s a special product and he is honoured to be part of the development of such a versatile aircraft – one that will make a definite impact in the marketplace.
“I have the best job in the company for sure,” Smith said. “The job I had before this was probably the second best job – I was the lead engineer for the 505 program. So, my blood is fully infused in this product. I love where it is going, I love the team I have, which is probably the single best part of this job. It truly is an exciting time to be part of Bell.”