AIN ONLINE: Today, a year and a day after the fatal crash of its first prototype, Bell Helicopter resumed the flight test program of its model 525 Relentless super-medium twin after receiving experimental certificate renewal from the FAA.
“Today we have resumed a key element of the Bell 525 program,” said Bell CEO Mitch Snyder. “Bell Helicopter has worked with the National Transportation Safety Board and FAA since the accident and we are confident in the resumption of flight test activity.” Snyder said Bell remains on track to certify the 525 in 2018. The 525 features fly-by-wire flight controls and the Garmin G5000H touchscreen-controlled avionics system. The flight test program had been stood down since the fatal crash of 525 flight test vehicle 1 (FTV-1) last July 6th.
Neither of the remaining two test aircraft had engaged in ground runs during the standdown. Two more test aircraft are being built at Bell's plant in Amarillo, Texas. One of those new aircraft is expected to fly this year and the other early next year.
The NTSB has yet to issue its final report on the FTV-1 accident. That aircraft was conducting tests near Vne speeds when the main rotor rpm dropped off and the main rotors departed the normal rotation plane and struck both the tailboom and the nose during the in-flight break-up sequence that destroyed the helicopter, according to the NTSB. A Bell executive told AIN last year that the company was making unspecified modifications to the remaining test aircraft in the wake of the accident.
According to FlightRadar24, the helicopter was traveling 199 knots (about 229 mph) at an altitude of 1,975 feet immediately before the crash. Throughout its one-hour test flight, radar data shows the helicopter increased and decreased speed several times.
Bell Helicopter had hoped to complete the certification process for the 525 in 2017, but the crash has delayed certification as well as first deliveries to customers.
“We do remain committed to the 525 program and will work to ensure the aircraft will be a safe, reliable and high-performance helicopter,” said Textron chief executive Scott Donnelly last week. Textron owns Bell Helicopter.