Bell Textron officially joins light utility helicopter competition

By Vertical Mag | October 4, 2005

Estimated reading time 3 minutes, 32 seconds.

Bell Helicopter Textron formally unveiled plans to enter its Canadian-built 412 commercial helicopter in the $1.3 billion competition to build a new light utility helicopter for the Army.
The Fort Worth-based company joins three other competitors hoping to land a contract to build as many as 350 helicopters to replace aging Vietnam-era Bell Hueys for light transport, rescue and medical evacuation.

Also in the running are EADS, the European parent company of American Eurocopter; a team composed of AgustaWestland and L-3 Communications Integrated Systems of Waco; and another team made up of Phoenix-based MD Helicopters and a branch of Lockheed Martin in Owego, N.Y.

Bell had earlier signaled its intention to enter the twin-engine 412 in the competition but used a high-profile briefing at the Association of the U.S. Army annual meeting to formally outline its plans.

The official announcement came barely a week before the Army’s Oct. 12 deadline for receiving proposals. The Army plans to announce a winner in April of 2006 and is calling for its first deliveries later that year. Production is expected to last a decade.

Stephen Eppinette, Bell’s manager for Army business development, said the company hopes to convince the Army that the 412 is a “mature” and reliable option with a proven track record. More than 700 models have been produced since the 412 went into production in 1981.

The decision to seek the contract comes during a robust period for Bell after it won a $2.2 billion contract for the Army’s advanced reconnaissance helicopter and secured Pentagon approval to go into full-rate production on the V-22 Osprey.

Eppinette called the competition “very, very important,” giving Bell another opportunity to strengthen its relationship with the Army. The V-22, the company’s hybrid tilt-rotor aircraft, is being built primarily for the Marines.

The 412, essentially a modern version of the Huey, is made in Mirabel, Canada, but Eppinette said the contract would generate an undetermined number of jobs at Bell’s Tarrant County plants, which would produce components such as rotor blades and transmissions.

Workers at a Bell subsidiary in Tennessee would install software, medical equipment and cargo hoists. If Bell wins the contract, more than 500 pilots and technicians would undergo training at the Bell Customer Training Academy at Alliance Airport.

Richard Aboulafia, an analyst for the Teal Group of Fairfax, Va., said the 412 was “clearly a second choice for Bell” after the Army’s instrument requirements ruled out Bell’s 210, which has less sophisticated software and is cheaper to produce.

Bell’s announcement came a day after AgustaWestland announced that it plans to team with the Waco company to produce a version of the AB139 helicopter for the Army. L-3 would install electronics systems and assemble the helicopters in Waco.

EADS, working with American Eurocopter, its Grand Prairie-based U.S. affiliate, is offering a slightly modified version of its EC-145 twin-engine commercial helicopter. The Lockheed-MD team’s entry is a version of its civil, twin-engine MD Explorer.

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