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The formidable Bell 429

By Brent Bundy

Published on: January 31, 2024
Estimated reading time 23 minutes, 10 seconds.

With the original design influenced by the air medical field, the Bell 429 has proven itself as a prime choice in nearly every arena where the helicopters are used.

At the turn of the 21st century, demand for twin-engine helicopters was gaining steam. While each of the major manufacturers had a variant that would satisfy the basic needs, several market segments were demanding more flexibility and performance.

Although helicopters with two engines had been flown as early as the mid-1950s, the additional safety, load carrying, and cabin capacities for several fields, especially helicopter emergency medical services (HEMS), were leading factors in the development of new models. Recognizing this increasing demand, Bell was determined not to be left behind.

The offering from the 60-year-old company may have been a generational step from previous models, but it would eventually become one of the sought-after aircraft in its market segment.
This is the Bell 429.

Fairfax County Police Department (FCPD) took delivery of the first LE-configured Bell 429 in 2011. “During the competition … the Bell 429 was the clear winner,” said FCPD chief pilot Andrew Edgerton. Sheldon Cohen Photo


The origins of the 429 date back to the mid-1980s when dual-engine versions of the renowned Bell 206L LongRanger were developed. Known as the 400/440 TwinRanger, these testbeds laid the groundwork for the production version — the 206LT TwinRanger, of which only 13 examples were built in the mid-1990s.

While those early attempts were based on the two-bladed 206 family, the next iteration would tap into another model that was new for the ’90s — the four-bladed 407. Dubbed the 407T, it was essentially a twin-engine version of the 407. Much of the motivation for this lineup was influenced and requested by the air medical sector, and Bell quickly realized that the 407T would not fulfill the requirements of HEMS providers. This began the development of a new model.

Carrying over from the 407T project, the new model was designated the 427, incorporating features from the 407 such as the four-bladed main rotor and similar tail rotor design. It was also the first Bell aircraft designed completely by computer. Powered by twin Pratt & Whitney Canada PW207D turboshaft engines, the 427 offered a capable 6,550-pound (2,971-kilogram) internal max gross weight (MGW) with room for a two-person crew and up to five passengers.

Initial flight was in late 1997 with deliveries beginning in early 2000. However, a limited cabin size that could not accommodate a patient litter and a lack of single-pilot instrument flight rules (IFR) certification dealt a swift blow to the program. By the mid-2000s, a replacement was already in the works and the remaining 427 orders were converted to the new model.

Arizona Department of Public Safety pilots often find themselves in hot and high environments for SAR assignments. The 429’s twin-engine performance increase over the 407’s is valued in this desolate terrain. Brent Bundy Photo

With lessons learned from the 206LT and 427, Bell unveiled mock-ups of the all-new 429 in February 2005 at HAI Heli-Expo in Anaheim, California. The inaugural flight followed two years later, with Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), Transport Canada Civil Aviation (TCCA), and European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) certification all being awarded in 2009. This was the first aircraft with maintenance certificates to be completed with the Maintenance Steering Group-3 (MSG-3) process. Launch customer Air Methods took the inaugural delivery of a production 429 in August 2009.


Visually similar to the 427, the 429 incorporates several updates and improvements, one of the most significant being the cabin size. At 204 cubic feet (5.78 cubic meter), including the 74 ft3 (2.1 m3) aft cabin storage, it has more space than any other light twin helicopter, with seating for up to seven passengers in addition to the pilot.

Alternatively, the baggage compartment can be supplied with a 39-US gallon (148-liter) fuel tank, adding to the already generous 217-US gal (821 L) standard tank. The low, flat cabin floor and optional rear clamshell doors are extremely important for HEMS operators.

Equally impressive are the performance figures. The PW207D1/D2 FADEC-equipped engines provide 635 shaft horsepower each at max continuous with 719 shp available at takeoff. At standard MGW of 7,000 lb. (3,175 kg), this allows for a 155-knot (287-kilometer per hour) max cruise speed and a long-range cruise speed (VLRC) of 411 nautical miles (761 kilometers). For external operations, the cargo hook lifting capacity is a notable 3,000 lb. (1,361 kg).

At inception, the rated internal MGW of 7,000 lb. (3,175 kg) soon became a point of contention. Operators wanted more and Bell knew the aircraft was capable of providing additional performance. In December 2011, TCCA approved operation of the 429 at an increased gross weight (IGW) of 7,500 lb. (3,402 kg). This decision was soon followed by 26 additional countries, including Australia, Brazil, China, Japan, Taiwan, and others. Although the FAA has not approved the increased weight limit, Bell has stated that it is confident the new IGW will be accepted by the U.S. and additional countries where the 429 is operated.

The Arizona Department of Public Safety has transitioned from Bell 407s to Bell 429s. The unit provides SAR services for the entire state of Arizona, from the high mountains around Flagstaff to the Sonoran Desert bordering Mexico. Brent Bundy Photo

Like most of its competitors, 429s are equipped with a basic skid landing design. One option that sets it apart from some others is the availability of wheeled landing gear. Shortly after deliveries began, Bell initiated work on this configuration, following strong demand from several customers who required it for their operations.

Initially displayed at the annual National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) convention in 2013, the premier 429WLG was purchased by an Argentinian company and the first North American example arrived in 2015. In addition to further flexibility for users and customers alike, the WLG has an increased cruise speed, credited to reduced drag from the absence of skids.


The timeline of development for the 429 coincided with rapid advancements of avionics in all aircraft. The widespread use of GPS beginning in the 1990s, along with the concurrent proliferation of glass panel cockpits, allowed the mostly clean-sheet-designed 429 to take advantage of this technology from its very beginning.

Currently, it incorporates the state-of-the-art second-generation Bell BasiX-Pro Integrated avionics. The vast instrument panel allows for multiple screens, including a large primary flight display (PFD), along with a second standard and third optional display unit. These multi-function monitors are all night vision goggle (NVG)-compatible and LED back-lit for optimal viewing in all lighting conditions. The highly flexible units allow for customization for the desired operation, including displaying weather, EO/IR cameras, digital mapping, and more.

Bell turns to Garmin for the GTN-650/750 NAV/COM/WAAS GPS as standard equipment. Navigation and communication are intuitive on this highly acclaimed setup, with touchscreen capability on the six-inch display. It allows for graphical flight planning, high-resolution terrain mapping and Class B terrain awareness and warning system (TAWS-B) and traffic collision avoidance system (TCAS) alerting.

Rear clamshell doors and a litter-height deck are features the HEMS industry appreciates, shown here with Iowa-based MercyOne Air Med, the Air Method affiliate that was the launch customer for the 429. Skip Robinson Photo

The GTNs are coupled with the remote-mounted Garmin GTX 345R transponder for ADS-B In and Out. Rounding out the typical outfitting are two very high frequency (VHF) communication transceivers and the Flight Stream 510 advanced Bluetooth connectivity-enabled MultiMediaCard (MMC).

The 510 allows for wireless avionics database updates, two-way flight plan transfer between electronic flight bag (EFB) devices and the aircraft avionics, phone call and text services, along with streaming of traffic, weather, music, and GPS information with backup attitude indications. The comprehensive avionics suite allows for both single- and dual-pilot IFR flights.

Adding to the safety and comfort of the 429 is the standard automatic flight control system (AFCS) autopilot with redundant digital flight control computers (FCCS). The base setup is a three-axis unit with an optional four-axis variation, which adds collective control, allowing for hover and hold capabilities. This further enhances safety and reduces pilot workload, especially in particular mission sets such as search-and-rescue (SAR) and hoist operations.


From the onset, the 429 was in demand. A month before certification, Bell had already secured over 300 letters of intent to purchase. With Air Methods, one of the largest and longest-running air medical programs in the world, accepting the initial example, it was clear that the issues from the 206LT and 427 had been suitably addressed. Recognizing the advantages offered by this new helicopter, the law enforcement field quickly stepped in the order queue. The first parapublic agency to take delivery was the Fairfax County Police Department (FCPD) Aviation Unit.

“At the time I was hired as a pilot, we had been flying the Bell 407 for 14 years and we were looking to upgrade,” FCPD chief pilot Andrew Edgerton told Vertical Valor. “During the competition for our new helicopter, the Bell 429 was the clear winner.”

The cavernous 204 ft3 (5.78 m3) cabin is ideal for specialty patient transportation, such as this pediatric isolette. Skip Robinson Photo

The unit’s first example was delivered in 2011 with another joining the fleet a year later. The aircraft was well-received, although there were growing pains associated with being at the front of the line for a specialized aircraft.

“There were very few options, accessories, and STCs [supplemental type certificates] available. The only medical interior was 600 lb. [272 kg] but we also needed all the LE equipment,” Edgerton said. “Because of that, several items, including the oxygen location, roll-off stretcher system, searchlight mount, and others were designed with our input. It was great to be part of the development of these items that we would eventually see being utilized by other operators.”

Edgerton is quick to point out that although they had some minor issues, help was there when needed.

“Bell has provided us with outstanding support and customer service,” he said. “I had an incident where I had to shut an engine down in flight. Not only did the 429 perform great during OEI [one engine inoperative] mode, Bell quickly tracked down the issue and addressed it.”

With close to 10,000 hours flown by the FCPD, the unit is still complimentary on the 429.

“One of our aircraft is in for its 5,000-hour overhaul,” Edgerton said. “During that maintenance, several components are being upgraded. It’s great to see because we’ve come full circle and the upgrades are items we assisted in the development of at the beginning.”

Edgerton is not alone in his satisfaction with the 429. Another early adopter was also a loyal Bell customer, the Delaware State Police (DSP). As the first LE operator to fly the 407, the 429 was a natural upgrade after winning the request for proposal (RFP) in 2014.

The Bell 429 was the first factory-new helicopter put into service by Mercy Flight for HEMS operations in Upstate New York along Lake Ontario. Mike Reyno Photo

“Following the selection of the 429 during the competitive process, the delivery, communications, and entry into service was very smooth,” chief pilot Sgt. Bill White told Vertical Valor. Their satisfaction with the aircraft was evident when two more were subsequently ordered. “Previously, we had three 407s and a 412. We have now transitioned to a fleet of three 429s.”

Each DSP aircraft is outfitted with the latest in LE equipment, including L3Harris Wescam MX-10 imaging platforms, TrakkaBeam A800 searchlights, Technisonic P25 multi-band radios, microwave downlink, and Aerolite medical interiors. Just like others have, the DSP looked to their Fairfax County neighbors for assistance.

“We consulted the FCPD to gain insight on their equipment selection, installation, and operations. They, along with Bell, made for a fluid transition,” White stated. “Because of our history with Bell, we were already familiar with the great training they provide at the Bell Training Academy. Our most challenging adaptation was the automation systems — hand-flying versus autopilot. But I see that as a major safety and workload-reducing improvement, particularly when flying in degraded visual environmental conditions like we often face here on the coast.”

The three 429s in the DSP fleet have accumulated over 10,000 hours and are still favored by White and his fellow pilots.

“It has been a reliable workhorse for us in our multi-mission, 24/7 operation,” White said. “Bell’s service and parts availability has been excellent and support is always responsive, especially in the very rare AOG [aircraft on ground] situations. It is a solid machine that performs for us, day and night, in rural, urban, and overwater conditions.”

During its 14-year run, the 429 has found satisfied customers in not only the LE field but also with HEMS operators, as was the original intent. However, it has also made inroads with corporate and utility programs.

The flexibility, performance, and safety record of the Bell 429 have propelled it to the top of the list for many HEMS, LE, VIP, and utility operators around the globe. Over 440 aircraft have flown more than 600,000 flight hours since its introduction 14 years ago. MIke Reyno Photo

For optimal outfitting in these areas, many clients have turned to Wysong for outfitting and completion. The company that Tennessee-based Steve Wysong started 35 years ago has become a favorite for HEMS, forestry, and utility patrons, notably with light and medium single- and twin-engine helicopters. Since the 429 entered the scene, Wysong has had a steady flow through the shop.

“We regularly work on the 429, with seemingly more always in the funnel,” Wysong vice president Jon Davis told Vertical Valor. “Work on this airframe started to pick up in the mid-2010s, and we are fortunate to have several technicians that have worked extensively on the 429 when they were employed by Bell.”

While most of Wysong’s 429 completions have been in VIP and utility configurations, they also regularly work with LE and forestry operators.

“The space in this aircraft allows for flexibility in mission profiles and an ease of transition between mission sets, which can be invaluable,” Davis said.

When questioned about working with Bell, Davis noted Wysong’s geographic advantage.

“We are fortunate to be located close to the Bell Service Center at Piney Flats, Tennessee,” he said. “This allows for direct collaboration with Bell, which has been instrumental in dealing with the 429 and its upgrade options over the years. Even during recent industry-wide parts challenges, Bell has remained responsive. This is a very capable, flexible aircraft that is a strong contender for a variety of missions across several industries.”

This sentiment is shared by Bell senior manager of product marketing Matt Jayne.

“The Bell 429 is a proven platform ranging from corporate/private use to the demanding missions of public safety agencies across the globe,” he said. “The latest upgrade to the Bell 429’s avionics suite and advanced standard equipment is a testament to Bell’s commitment to incorporating the latest technology in its commercial portfolio.”

Bell public safety segment specialist Terry Miyauchi echoed this statement.

“Agencies and HEMS providers continue to put their trust in the Bell 429 because of the reliability and readiness to answer the call when it comes, from the canyons of Arizona to the mountains of Matterhorn,” Miyauchi said.

Boise, Idaho-based Air St. Luke’s utilizes two Bell 429s, provided by Idaho Helicopters, for EMS operations across southern Idaho. Sheldon Cohen Photo

With the original design influenced by the air medical field, the success of the 429 was vital for those clients.

“Our HEMS customers rely on state-of-the-art avionics to operate safely and efficiently,” declared Bell emergency medical services segment specialist Steve Soliz. “The Bell 429 delivers class-leading situational awareness and OEI capabilities, which can be critical when completing life-saving missions in some of the most challenging circumstances.”

The success of the Bell 429 is in the numbers — 14 years in existence, over 440 examples in operation around the globe, and over 600,000 accumulated flight hours across the fleet.

The 429 has proven itself as a prime choice in nearly every arena where helicopters are needed. LE, HEMS, military, VIP, utility, firefighting, you name it, the 429 has done it and excelled along the way.

If your operation needs a time-tested, flexible platform that continues to evolve for the needs of its customers, the Bell 429 may very well be the choice for you.

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