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Fri, Mar 07, 2003

First Flight: BA609 Civil Tilt Rotor!

World's First Civil Tiltrotor Achieves Milestone

A new chapter in aviation history opened Friday with the maiden flight of the world's first civil tiltrotor, the Bell/Agusta Aerospace BA609. The nine-passenger aircraft, jointly developed by Bell Helicopter, a Textron company and by Agusta, an AgustaWestland company, hovered at an altitude of 50 feet, performed left and right pedal turns, both forward and aft flight maneuvers, four take-offs and landings, nacelle position changes and stability testing for .6 flight hours (36 minutes) before setting down. The first flight follows seven weeks of ground runs and taxi testing for the BA609 conducted at Bell's Flight Research Center, Arlington, Texas.

"The first flight was flawless, the 609 performed exactly as we knew it would," explained Bell/Agusta Senior Flight Test Pilot Roy Hopkins who is the world's high time tiltrotor pilot with over 1,000 flight hours in the V-22 Osprey and XV-15 tiltrotor aircraft. Bell test pilot Dwayne Williams flew as co-pilot on today's first flight of the BA609.

"Today's first flight of the BA609 is truly an historic occasion for it marks the first flight of an aircraft that will be available to the public that can not only fly with the high speed and range of an airplane but can take-off, hover and land with the versatility of a helicopter," declared Bell Helicopter's Chairman and CEO John Murphey, adding, "Until today, commercial helicopters were limited to a top speed of about 150 knots. The BA609 smashes through that barrier with a top speed approaching 300 knots. This achievement is as remarkable as when the Bell X-1 first broke the sound barrier over 50 years ago."

"With nearly 70 advance orders from customers around the world, there is no doubt the BA609 will revolutionize air transportation." added AgustaWestland's CEO Amedeo Caporaletti.

With its rotors in the vertical position, the tiltrotor is able to take-off, land and hover like a traditional helicopter. When the rotors are tilted forward to the horizontal position, the aircraft is able to fly similar to a turboprop fixed-wing airplane. The transition from helicopter mode to airplane mode takes 20 seconds, as does the transition from airplane mode to helicopter mode.

The BA609, a six to nine passenger aircraft, is expected to be certified by the FAA in 2007 with first deliveries to begin immediately following. Bell/Agusta will produce a total of four prototype tiltrotor aircraft for flight-testing. Final assembly for production aircraft will take place at Bell's Amarillo, Texas, facility with another assembly line to be established at the Agusta plant in Italy. Fuji Heavy Industries of Japan has the contract to build all of the production fuselages for the BA609. All parts and components for both lines will come from the exact same source yielding aircraft that will be identical whether assembled in Italy or Texas.

Headquarters for the Bell/Agusta Aerospace Company is located at Alliance Airport in Fort Worth, Texas. BA 609 customer training will be conducted at this location, which will also serve as a delivery center. The BA609 will cruise at 275 knots with a maximum unrefueled range of 750 nautical miles, 1,000 nautical miles with auxiliary fuel tanks. The aircraft in standard configuration is fully pressurized and de-iced.

Bell Helicopter, a Textron company, is a $1.6 billion, leading producer of commercial and military helicopters, and the pioneer of the revolutionary tiltrotor aircraft. Bell Helicopter is a division of Textron Inc. AgustaWestland is a Finmeccanica and GKN Company, with primary operations in Cascina Costa, Italy, and Yeovil, United Kingdom. 

FMI: www.bellagustaaerospace.com, www.textron.com, www.agustawestland.com

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