Twenty Years of of Helicopter Development at Mirabel
Bell Helicopter, October 01, 2006 - Since its launch in 1986, BHTCL’s Mirabel facility has produced several helicopter models and celebrated many milestones. In fact just last summer, the plant commemorated the delivery of its 3,000th helicopter, a Model 412, to Air Logistics.
At the beginning, the plant was designed to build Model 400, a four-bladed light twin. When the project was put on hold due to market conditions, the plant started producing Bell Jet Rangers and Long Rangers. Turbo West of Colorado took delivery of the first 206B3 assembled at Mirabel in December 1986 when BHTCL also began production of Models 212 and 412.
Within its first five years the plant delivered 500 helicopters around the world. In fact, Air Logistics took delivery of the 500th helicopter, a 206L3, in May 1991. In August of that same year, we also celebrated the first flight of Model 230. The Mirabel team, in collaboration with their counterparts in Fort Worth, had been working on improving the popular 222 since 1989 and would start working shortly on the next generation, Model 430.
The 430 is a stretch version of the 230; it is outfitted with a larger cabin, a four-bladed bearingless rotor and more powerful Rolls Royce engines. It also incorporates the latest in instrument technologies with a Rogerson Kratos IIDS and Honeywell EFIS. Deliveries for the 430 started in 1996 and in September of that year, Ron Bower and John Williams set an around-the-world speed record of 17 days, 6 hours, 14 minutes and 25 seconds in their Model 430 aircraft.
During the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, the Mirabel teams worked on a wide variety of projects: a composite tailboom for the 412, the upgrade of the 206L3 to the L4 configuration we know today, a Dual Digital Automatic Flight Control System (DDAFCS) for the 412, and a twin conversion for the 206L, called the 206LT, based on Tridair’s Gemini ST conversion. Then came the contract for 100 CFUTTHs for the Canadian government and the development of Model 407. A derivative of the 206L4, the 407 is a four-bladed light helicopter powered by a Rolls Royce 250-C47 engine which incorporates several new technologies such as a FADEC (Full A uthority Digital Engine Control), composite main rotor blades, and composite sidebodies and doors. Since its maiden flight in June 1995, the model 407 has proved to be one of the most popular light helicopters.
The CFUTTH (Canadian Forces Utility Tactical Transport Helicopter) represented a significant modification to the basic Model 412. It had to incorporate NVG (Night Vision Goggle) instrument and lighting systems, a Health Usage and Monitoring System (HUMS), and the provision for multiple kits allowing for quick reconfiguration based on mission requirements. Renamed the CH-146 Griffon, one hundred helicopters were delivered to the Canadian Forces between 1994 and 1997.
In 1996, Bell started developing its Model 427. A light twin-engine aircraft powered by two Pratt & Whitney 207D engines with FADEC, the 427 has a four-bladed main rotor and can seat up to seven passengers. Designed entirely on CATIA, the use of an electronic mock-up as well as technologies such as stereolithography helped to shorten development time. Model 427 first flew on December 11, 1997 and deliveries began in 2000.
By then the Mirabel team had already started work on their next projects: a version of the 412 for the Royal Saudi Air Force (RSAF) and an improved model 412 called the 412+. The plan for the 412+ was to upgrade the engines and transmission, provide a glass cockpit with Rogerson Kratos IIDS and incorporate a composite tailboom. Although the RSAF took delivery of several 412s, the 412+ project was put on hold.
Then in 2002, work began on the development of another generation of helicopters: the MAPL family (Modular Affordable Product Line). The first helicopter of this family will be the Model 429. A light twin, the 429 will be powered by two 207D1 Pratt & Whitney engines. Its large open cabin and flat floor make it versatile for a multitude of missions, including EMS. The first prototypes are currently being assembled here and are scheduled to fly later this year.
The development of our latest model, the 417, began in 2004. Based on the ever-popular Model 407, the 417 will provide updated avionics with Chelton displays and be powered by Honeywell’s HTS-900 engine. Its first flight took place in Fort Worth on June 1, 2006. As tumultuous and exciting as have been the last 20 years for the Mirabel facility, the next 20 look even brighter and more challenging!
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