Bell's very fast 429: $4.865 mil, 2+6 seats or EMS mode, 2.25 hrs
Latest 142-kt twin with optional rear swing-wide double doors is aimed at medevac, military, recon, biz markets.
By Woody McClendon
ATP/Helo. AgustaWestland A109, Bell 222/412, Eurocopter AS350B3
Bell 429 flight test vehicle departs Anaheim Convention Center heliport with Pilot Author Woody McClendon at the controls.
Since its introduction in the mid-1960s, the civilian helicopter has undergone an interesting evolution.
The first 2 types-the Sikorsky VS300 and the Bell 47-were basic designs for flight. Commercial applications were secondary to just getting in the air.
The Bell 47 became the first certified civilian helicopter in 1946 and had a successful commercial career for the next 30 years. As with many early aircraft whose design features were all about sustaining flight, operators of the Bell 47 generated business for their machines by working around their limitations.
In 1962 Bell lost the competition for the US Army's light observation helicopter to Hughes, primarily because its entry-the OH4-had poor hover performance. Bell saw an opportunity to make a success out of a failure by developing a commercial version.
Listening to their customers flying Model 47s, Bell designed a stylish fuselage with comfortable seating for 4 using the rotor system of the OH4. The Bell 206 JetRanger became the most successful commercial helicopter ever built, with follow-on models like the 206L4 LongRanger IV still in production today.
Bell's latest new design reflects the helicopter industry's commitment to developing products using customer input. Recognizing the aeromedical community as a major market, Bell sought out the experience and needs of the fleet operators.
Air Methods, the largest aeromedical operator in the US, not only became a partner in the design but committed to engineer the EMS interior and take a large number of airframes, replacing the older Bell products in its fleet, like the 222 and the 412.
A large proportion of the 300-plus orders Bell has taken for the 429 are for EMS missions around the world. The Bell 429 has much to offer the aeromedical mission. Patient loading through doors in the aft fuselage was popularized by the Eurocopter BK117 (formerly the MBB-Kawasaki BK117)-one of the most widely used helicopters in the aeromedical community.
The 429 offers aft doors as an option, although the numerous combinations of sliding and hinged doors available will likely serve some customers' patient loading needs equally well. EMS operators also beg for-and even demand when possible-flat floors in the main cabin.
This is because structural bumps and gutters create niches that are impossible to keep clean and inevitably lead to broken medical equipment and barked shins for crewmembers. Addressing this issue, Bell's 429 sports a wide, flat cabin floor.
Another critical need is equipment storage. Even in the 412, with its numerous aft fuselage and tailboom storage compartments, medical crews constantly have to rebalance their bags and equipment cases against the kinds of missions with which they're tasked.
The 429 offers nearly as much cabin volume as the 412-200 cu ft, vs 220 cu ft in the 412. For an aeromedical helicopter this large volume, coupled with an unobstructed cabin, is a good start.
McClendon (L) listens as Bell Experimental Test Pilot Carl Bertrand explains the design features of the 429's 4-bladed tail rotor.
Bell Experimental Test Pilot Carl Bertrand introduced us to the 429.Bertrand has been flying the 429 throughout the entire test program, and flew this individual helicopter from YMX (Mirabel, Montreal QC, Canada) to Anaheim CA for Heli-Expo 2009.
Bertrand remarked that the 2 pilots flying had seen 145 KTAS consistently all the way across the US. And this was in a fully fueled aircraft carrying several hundred pounds of convention gear-mostly boxes of brochures and promotional items-in the cabin.
As we did our walkaround, Bertrand pointed out the new design rotor system-a lighter-weight, more structurally efficient evolution of the 412 and 407 rotor systems.
Several in-body maintenance steps are available for easy access to the upper deck. All hydraulic, powerplant and electrical system components are accessible on the airframe upper deck without removing any cabin interior pieces, which reduces maintenance hours considerably.
The 4-blade tail rotor uses a stack hub with the 2 blades in one set at a 35° angle to those in other set. In the Bell 429 corporate configurations, the baggage compartment is separate from the main cabin and is accessible by a door on the left side of the fuselage.
In the EMS configuration, the baggage compartment is part of the main cabin, with access either through the side doors or the optional aft clamshell doors. Fuel is added through a filler on the right-hand side of the fuselage to 3 main tanks beneath the cabin floor.
The tanks hold a total of 214 gal. A optional auxiliary tank underneath the aft cabin or baggage compartment floor adds a further 40 gal. Groundcrew members helped me get settled in the right-hand pilot's seat.
Four Rogerson Kratos flat panel displays provide the crew with PFD data as well as an MFD formatted for crew advisories on all critical systems.
The 429's large entry door is reminiscent of that of its noble ancestor, the UH1. One of the groundcrew pointed out the newly designed pedal adjustment. Each pedal is adjusted separately by holding a large knob up until the pedal is slid to the desired position.
Releasing the knob snaps it into the locking position. The door closed with a solid thump and the large latch handle snapped into its detent. The 429's crew seats are a completely new design-the nicest I've ever seen in a Bell product.
Fore-and-aft and vertical adjustments are with large, easy to use manual controls. And a lumbar support moves in and out by holding a control until a comfortable position is found.