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Bell has unveiled the 407GXi, a converted 407GXP featuring new avionics and an upgraded engine.
The manufacturer, which recently dropped “Helicopter” from its name in a rebranding effort to reflect the broader scope of its innovations, officially revealed the upgraded GXi during a presentation by president and CEO Mitch Snyder at Heli-Expo in Las Vegas, Nevada.
The helicopter, which received certification from Transport Canada on Jan. 19, features two major changes from its GXP predecessor, as well as flight plan and health monitoring systems that capitalize on onboard connectivity.
“We are always looking at ways to innovate our current product line to provide our customers with the most capable, dependable, and technologically advanced aircraft in the market,” Susan Griffin, executive vice president of Bell’s commercial business, said in a statement. “The Bell GXi delivers improved pilot awareness, higher precision navigation, enhanced engine controls, and improved connectivity.”
The engine was upgraded from the Rolls-Royce M250-C47B/8 to the M250-C47E/4. The high and hot performance introduced with the GXP in 2015 has been retained, but the engine control system is now a dual channel FADEC.
“We added three layers of redundancy with this new engine while keeping the same performance for high and hot,” said Michael Nault, Bell Helicopter Textron Canada’s program director for light helicopters, during a pre-Heli-Expo briefing at the company’s production facility in Mirabel, Quebec.
He said that the previous engine had one computer controlling the engine, with a manual backup. “If your engine would fail, you could control it with the twist grip [on the throttle] and go in manual mode,” he said, adding while that might be benign for an experienced pilot, it created challenges for newer pilots. “[Now] if you have a failure, you go from your primary channel of FADEC 1 to your primary channel on FADEC 2. If that fails, you go to your secondary channels.”
The new engine also offers a four per cent improvement in range and fuel consumption, he said, while providing the aircraft with a cruising speed of 133 knots (246 km/h).
As part of the conversion package, the GXi also features Garmin’s G1000H NXi integrated flight deck, which was first introduced on the Textron Beechcraft King Air series of fixed-wing aircraft.
“It’s a complete change. Every box of the system changes, the screens, all the computers in the back, processing, all the conversion boxes going from the engine to the cockpit,” Nault explained. “It is basically changing a 1980s computer with a 2020s computer. It is five times faster, with a crisper screen, crisper display, and faster boot up time. It is an LED backdrop display, so it doesn’t emit as much heat as the older ones.”
Other upgrades include the Garmin FlightStream 510, a WiFi and Bluetooth-enabled multimedia card that allows pilots to upload flight plans from a smart device. Step into or walk near the helicopter and, with the tap of a button, “the flight plan gets transferred into the aircraft,” Nault said. The same technology allows transfer of maintenance and health usage monitoring data from the aircraft to maintainance devices.
The GXi also features the Garmin SurfaceWatch, an enhanced runway monitoring technology that can help prevent pilots from taking off or landing on a taxiway or the wrong runway and provides alerts when a runway is too short. Finally, the aircraft will be fully automatic dependent surveillance – broadcast (ADS-B) in and out compliant.
Bell is still delivering a few GXPs but expects to be in full production of the GXi by early April, with first deliveries to follow later in the month.
While a GXP customer might admire the improved features in the GXi, Nault said the company would not retrofit the older model because significant wiring and structural changes were made to accommodate the new engine and avionics boxes.