Bell Helicopter has confirmed the first test aircraft and flight belonging to the 525 relentless programme has crashed and killed two company test pilots in central Texas on July 6th. This tragedy is another a major setback in the yearlong effort to certificate the first application of fly-by-wire technology for a commercial helicopter. Bell released a statement via Twitter informing the public that they are working with the relevant authorities on the case in order to determine the cause of this horrible accident.
The US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) confirmed details of the crash in a separate Twitter message that the crash occurred in “Chambers Creek”, Texas. Chambers Creek is a reference to a small river about 120km southeast of Fort Worth. The ill-fated flight test phase started on July 1st 2015 and initial pictures of the crash scene indicated that the wreckage belonged to the first 525 test aircraft. The twin-engined 525 is expected to enter service in 2017 and is jam packed with advanced technology and represents the first application of fly-by-wire flight controls in a commercial helicopter. This combined with the Arc Horizon flight deck system which assists the pilot by automatically holding the aircraft in banks and hovers have created considerable anticipation for the 525.
Back in 2012 a two-member Bell flight crew walked away unscathed from a 214ST test aircraft crash. The 214ST test aircraft flight was intended to evaluate the main rotor components intended for the new helicopter models. The 525 crashed aircraft is just one of three prototypes involved in the flight test campaign so far with two more test aircrafts expected to join the fleet by the third quarter.
Bell Helicopter meanwhile has suspended further 525 flight testing but is proceeding ahead with ground-based testing and certification work for the 16-seat 525 helicopter as revealed by Scott Donnelly, Textron chief executive. Although the parent company Textron has not yet been able to provide an estimate of the length of the self-imposed 525 grounding or the impact on the certification schedule, Textron is still committed to the Bell 525 programme. Donnelly states that the failures has only strengthened Textron’s resolute will in ensuring that the “aircraft will be a safe, reliable and high-performance helicopter.”
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