Bell 505 Delivers Smooth Ride In Test Flight

Bell Helicopter delivered the first customer 505 Jet Ranger X in March. Days later, BJT sister publication Aviation International News had the opportunity to climb aboard and experience a local test flight in one from the Dallas Vertiport under the command of Bell test pilot Brent Berwick. Serial Number 65012 was flying under Canadian registration and destined for the Bell Training Academy. At press time last month, FAA and EASA certification validation were anticipated “any day,” according to 505 program manager LaShan Bonaparte. The aircraft was liveried in basic Bell white (other colors cost extra), equipped with the stock G1000H avionics system, and optional dual controls and premium leather seats that, while far from plush, were a definite step up from basic Bell 206 fare.

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During the walkaround, you notice a couple of things right away. The doors are huge. The clamshell doors on the copilot side open to a capacious 55 inches, making passenger entry/egress a no-drama affair. The lithium-ion battery and the breakers are in an easy-to-reach service panel aft of the baggage compartment. And then there is this big metal square attached with cables to the tailboom. Berwick calls it a “fram.” Bonaparte refers to it as “the dampener on the tailboom.” It's a 25-pound moving mass, and the cables act as a spring. The entire assembly dampens vibrations from the tail-rotor system. That system—along with all the other dynamic rotor components (blades, driveshafts, gearboxes and transmission)—comes straight from the larger Bell 206L4. In fact, when you look through the inspection window for the tail-rotor gearbox, it clearly says it's a 206L component. Bonaparte said relatively few changes had to be made to the system to adapt it to the 505 save for moving a few oil lines to accommodate the Live anti-vibration system on the main transmission. A Safran Arrius 2R (459 shp continuous) provides the power.

Live stands for Liquid Inertia Vibration Eliminator. It's a hybrid elastomeric/hydraulic system developed by ITT Enidine and Bell for the 505 that provides vibration elimination for the two-per-rev frequency of the aircraft, according to Mark Ott, Enidine's technology development manager. Four bolts and a brace mount Live to the main rotor transmission. In turn, arms extending from Live mount it to the aircraft structure. The system combines Bell's proprietary hydraulic technology with Enidine's expertise in integrated hydraulics and elastomerics. The system allows Bell to get more speed out of the aircraft with less vibration for more passenger comfort. It is a passive system and it appears to work well. Loaded down with four occupants, Berwick flew a variety of maneuvers and bank angles at speeds ranging from 74 to 124 knots. While you won't confuse the ride quality with that of an Airbus H175, it is demonstrably better than a Bell 206 and overall you get the impression that, vibration wise, you are in a large single or light twin. And that's no small feat considering the lineage of the rotor system.

Other aspects of the cabin's ergonomics also raise the bar for light singles. Seat comfort and legroom are excellent from any seat; the total cabin volume is 99 cubic feet and the rear cabin volume is 61 cubic feet. Six-footers can sit in the front and back and no one eats their knees. Visibility and ventilation are good from every seat. Up front, the switchology is simple and straightforward, as you would expect from any system built around the G1000 and an engine with Fadec.

As you also might expect, given its base price of "around $1 million," there are a lot of extra-cost options on the 505, and Bell is still working on certifying some of them, such as the rotor brake, air conditioning, Bose headset adapter, cargo hook and cargo hook mirror. All of those should be approved shortly or by the time you read this. Bell plans to add a wire strike protection kit (under STC with Magellan as a factory option), hard points for ENG and law enforcement operators to mount cameras, searchlight and loud hailers, and high-clearance landing gear in the next few months and through early next year. Bonaparte said Bell is also working on an autopilot, automatic door openers, and a new access panel to line up with the engine wash port so that engine washes can be completed without removing the entire engine cowl.

However, many popular options have already been certified, among them the avionics upgrade for the G1000H that provides helicopter synthetic vision (HSVT), helicopter synthetic terrain avoidance warning system (HTaws), and the GTS 800 traffic advisory system that replaces the standard traffic information system. The Garmin GRA 5500 radar altimeter is another option.

While Bell CEO Mitch Snyder said in December that the company planned to manufacture 50 of the 505s this year, Bonaparte declined to confirm that. She did say that, despite the high level of anticipated customization given the helicopter's large option catalog, Bell's Mirabel, Quebec plant has more than enough capacity to handle the task and any overflow could be accommodated by the company's facilities in Tennessee, Prague, and Singapore.

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