Unter the helicopters made by the American manufacturer Bell, there are two classics that even laypeople are familiar with. On the one hand, there is the legendary UH-1 used by the military and rescue services; The bulbous single-turbine helicopter was nicknamed “Carpet Beater” because of its unique flight noise. And then the much smaller Jet Ranger 206, more than 6000 copies built from 1967 to 2010 and still in use worldwide as a robust all-rounder. It was kind of the good old days for Bell. In 2021, the manufacturer, which belongs to the American group Textron, will face two heavyweight European competitors in the civil helicopter market: Airbus Helicopters and Leonardo. This is probably one of the reasons why Bell started the development of the new Model 525 with “a blank sheet of paper”, as Jonathan Castorena, Manager for the German-speaking countries at Bell, points out. Translated, this means that no old pattern has been modified and exhausted, but all components have been redesigned.
From the beginning, Castorena explains, Bell asked potential customers about their wishes and ideas in order to build a helicopter that would exactly meet the requirements of future users in the super-medium class with a take-off weight of up to ten tons. The first 525 has now been presented in the middle of Berlin: The company wants to convince the decision-makers from politics and the police in the federal capital that its new helicopter would be the perfect future rotary wing aircraft for law enforcement officers. Because in the coming years, the helicopter fleet of the Federal Police, previously consisting of four types, is to be streamlined and standardized on just two models.
For the larger model, i.e. a ten-ton helicopter, an order for 40 units with a procurement cost of around one billion euros will soon be due. Bell would like to outdo the previous top dog in the federal police fleet, Airbus Helicopters, in this tender. The Bell 525 is also available in a VIP version, as a search and rescue helicopter or as a supply helicopter for offshore platforms and with up to 19 passenger seats.
One drawback: The Bell 525 has not yet been approved by the American FAA. According to Castorena, this can be expected this year. Only then does the European Aviation Safety Agency, EASA, test the Bell 525. Usually, American helicopter models also receive the European type certification about one year after the American one. The development of the Bell 525 has been significantly delayed. A prototype crashed in 2016, killing both test pilots. That set the whole program back.
The Bell 525 has two major technical innovations in the rotary wing industry. It is the first civil helicopter to fly with fly-by-wire technology. And for the first time it has sidesticks instead of the usual joystick. This means a change for experienced commercial pilots, because only such pilots will fly a Bell 525. For a good 80 years it was an iron law for series-produced helicopters that the control stick is between the pilot’s knees and is operated with the right hand. The collective pitch, i.e. the lever for adjusting the rotor blades, on the other hand, is always located to the left of the seat and is operated with the left. With the Bell 525, on the other hand, the pilot’s right arm rests on a small support, in front of it the sidestick, comparable to an Airbus aircraft.
First used in a civilian model
The collective pitch lever is also much smaller than in conventional models. According to Bell, this makes steering easier and less stressful. Tests in the simulator had shown that pilots quickly got used to the new type of control input using a sidestick. There is no longer a mechanical connection to the control elements in the rotor head; all control inputs are transmitted electronically through fly-by-wire. The system has three redundant safeguards. Bell has extensive experience with this technology in its military helicopters, but is using it for the first time in a civilian model in the 525.
The Bell 525 offers high speed. Almost 300 km / h is an excellent value for a helicopter, thanks to the retractable wheel landing gear. A maximum range of 1074 kilometers enables you to reach almost any point in Germany with one tank of fuel. For pilots, on the other hand, their workload is particularly important in demanding operations. For this reason, an avionic system of the type 5000H from the manufacturer Garmin with four large displays, specially designed for helicopters, is to support the two pilots during the flight. A four-axis autopilot takes over the flight, especially when cruising, thereby relieving the crew. This autopilot is more complex than that of an airliner because a helicopter must be able to stand still in the air or even be able to fly backwards. An extremely generous glazing of the cockpit should also ensure excellent visibility during take-off and landing.
In order to reduce the noise level, the 525 has been given a five-blade rotor for the first time in Bell’s company history. And in order to be ready for use in all weathers, a de-icing system is provided for the rotor blades and tail rotor.
The operating and maintenance costs of the 525 should be below those of comparable competitors such as the H215 from Airbus Helicopters or the AW189 from Leonardo, as Bell promises. This is also due to the fact that the helicopter can send important data to the operator via satellite during the flight. Airlines use similar systems for their commercial aircraft. This means that any maintenance requirements can be recognized during the flight and carried out immediately after landing.
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