After years of back-and-forth negotiations, Bell Helicopter has at last agreed to sell its stake in the BA609 civil tiltrotor program to partner AgustaWestland. As a result, the tiltrotor is being renamed the AW609.
Bell will continue to supply components and engineering support for the tiltrotor, but flight testing and manufacture will move solely to Italy.
AgustaWestland has long pressed Bell for a larger stake in the program, originally announced in 1996 as a partnership between Boeing and Bell. The civil tiltrotor first flew in 2003, but after a fast start testing has slowed considerably.
In a statement, Bell said its decision to sell its sake in the civil tiltrotor will allow the company to devote additional R&D resources to the military Boeing-Bell V-22 tiltorotor and “develop the next-generation tiltrotor technologies for U.S. Department of Defense.” After a test program marred by delays and deadly crashes, the V-22 today has the best safety record of any tactical rotorcraft in the Marine Corps fleet.
When exactly AgustaWestland will bring to market the AW609 remains an open question as the company seeks to accelerate the civil tiltrotor’s flight test regimen. Two prototypes have completed about 600 hours of testing, and two more are currently under construction. Once certified, the AW609 will carry six to nine passengers at a speed of up to 275 knots in airplane mode and be capable of vertical takeoff and landing in helicopter mode.
Earlier this year, AgustaWestland CEO Giuseppe Orsi said large tiltrotor designs could play a significant role in the company’s long-term future.