We had the opportunity to visit Bell Helicopters and tour their facilities in Mirabel, Quebec during Aerospace Week. The visit was quite eye-opening, with a focus on both the current civil products being produced in Canada as well as future efforts in urban mobility that leverage Bell’s knowledge, expertise, and historic innovation in vertical flight.
Bell is a part of Textron, which has four major sectors, Bell, Textron Systems, Textron Aviation, and Industrial. Bell accounts for approximately 23% of the company’s revenues, as shown in the chart below:
The company was founded by Larry Bell in 1935 and produced its first helicopter in 1942. The company expended to North Texas in 1951, and currently has about 7,500 employees worldwide. Since its inception, Bell has delivered more than 35,000 aircraft.
Today, the company is 64% military and 36% commercial in its mix. Commercial models include the 407, 412, 429, and the best-selling 505, all of which are built in Quebec. The new and larger mid-sized Bell 525 would be facility constrained at Mirabel and is the only civil helicopter built in Amarillo, Texas, which specializes in military helicopters. Military models are built in the United States.
Innovation at Bell
Bell’s R&D labs are working in multiple areas, including urban mobility, automated package delivery, innovative aerodynamics, advanced unmanned support vehicles, and the next generation of helicopter technologies. The team at Mirabel is active in all of these areas, sharing research and development findings with their colleagues in Texas on joint R&D teams that bridge national borders.
Bell is driving innovation in urban mobility, including the Nexus program, which is described in detail here. The Nexus is Bell’s R&D concept for urban mobility, and is designed for a pilot and 4 passengers to travel vertically to land and take off in urban environments and fly like an airplane to move from city to suburbs or airports.
Hydra is an unmanned vehicle with 12 electric motors, a “ring-wing” design, which is shown in flight here. This R&D vehicle is help Bell to learn how to manage an electrically distributed system and to further study the aerodynamics of ring-wing concepts.
Bell’s APT, or Automatic Pod Transport, is designed for urban package delivery. This drone could be utilized by retailers such as Amazon to deliver packages door to door via air.
Bell’s V-247 Vigilant is an advanced unmanned vehicle designed to provide the US military with intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) over a given area. This design uses tilt-rotors, like the V-22, to enable aircraft performance and speed.
Bell is also developing the helicopter of the future, demonstrated by the FCX-001 concept. This advanced design includes hybrid electric propulsion, advanced airframe design, morphing rotor blades, advanced avionics providing a virtual cockpit, modular interior concepts, and advanced anti-torque devices that eliminate the tail rotor, all brought together with innovative flight control technology. The FCX concept innovates across the board, not simply in one area, to dramatically change the nature of vertical-lift aircraft.
Today’s products in production at Mirabel
Bell is producing four helicopter families in Mirabel, including the 505, 407, 412, and 419 models. Entering service in 2017, the Bell 505, which is the follow-on to the legendary 206 that also carries on the name Jet Ranger, and is the best selling civil helicopter in the Bell lineup. In 2018, 116 of these models were delivered, making it the third most popular helicopter following 136 Airbus H125 and 128 Robinson R44 Raven II.
The 505 carries one pilot and four passengers, has a useful load of 1,500 pounds and is powered by a Turbomeca Arrius 2R turboshaft with 505 shp. The two bladed rotor has a diameter of 37 feet, which provides a maximum speed of 125 knots and a range of 333 nautical miles @4,000ft. The aircraft has a list price of about $1.1 million.
The Bell 407 was introduced in 1996, and more than 1,400 of these aircraft have been delivered. The 407 is a four blade, single engine helicopter that is larger than the JetRanger in Bell’s lineup.
Powered by a Rolls-Royce 250 Turboshaft providing 813 shp, the 407 carries on pilot and six passengers with a useful load of 2,347 pounds. The aircraft cruises at 133 knots with a range of 324 nautical miles, and is priced slightly over $3 million. 43 Bell 407 aircraft were delivered in 2018
Derived from the Huey family, the Bell 412 is a twin-engine helicopter that has been produced since 1979 and is a mainstay of law enforcement, oil and gas, and military community. 11 Bell 412s were delivered in 2018.
With one or two pilots and up to 13 passengers, this helicopter offers a useful load of 5,100 pounds and is powered by a Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6T-3D twin-pack turboshaft engine producing 1,250 shp or 900 shp for each engine section. With a cruise speed of 122 knots and a range of 609 nautical miles, the 412 is suited for long range missions for the offshore oil and gas section, with a typical price of $6.7 million
Also known as the Global Ranger, the Bell 429 is a light twin-engine helicopter that is single-pilot IFR capable. Introduced in 2009, the 429 can accommodate one pilot and seven passengers. 20 Bell 429s were delivered in 2018.
Powered by two Pratt & Whitney Canada PW207D1 turboshafts with 625 shp each, the helicopter has a useful load of 2,755 pounds, with a cruise speed of 150 knots and a range of 390 nautical miles. This model has been well received for EMS operations and can accommodate a stretcher and bedside station in the passenger compartment.
Capabilities in Montreal
Mirabel is Bell’s Center of Excellence for commercial helicopters, and the Canadian operation has been in place for more than 30 years. The facility has 660,000 sq. ft. of floor space, employs more than 1,000 workers, and has delivered more than 5,000 aircraft. Combined with the innovation and joint R&D shared across various Bell facilities, the company is well positioned to continue to be a leader in new technologies for vertical flight as it pushes the frontiers of innovative design.