Bell Helicopter has launched the Magellan program to develop an unspecified new product as part of an effort to revitalize its commercial rotorcraft business.
The news is contained in a memo released by Bell Helicopter Textron Canada, which develops and assembles the company’s commercial helicopters in Mirabel, Quebec.
Bell has previously talked of following the all-new Model 429 light turbine twin by launching a new medium twin to supersede the Model 412, and potentially compete with the AgustaWestland AW139 and Eurocopter EC175.
Magellan, formerly known as Project-X, will involve both internal and external resources, says the memo from Larry Roberts, senior vice president of commercial programs.
“Magellan represents a company commitment to develop and bring to market a new and cost effective product that differentiates itself by applying an intensive effort of listening and meeting our customers’ needs into the product definition,” says the memo. “A Customer Advisory Panel - representing all of the industry segments we serve – has been created to provide input and feedback throughout our product development process,” the memo adds.
Bell launched development of the 429 in 2005 as the first member of its Modular Affordable Product Line (MAPL) family, and a year later was talking of developing the “New Medium Twin” as the second member.
The Canadian federal and Quebec provincial governments each provided C$115 million ($116 million) in repayable loans for the MAPL program, Quebec saying Bell planned a total investment of roughly C$700 million “to develop four new models”.
In 2006, the company canvassed customers on their requirements for medium twin, and in a presentation to analysts showed two notional 16- and 17-passenger configurations, but the plan was shelved in favor of upgrades to the 412.
The 429 was certificated in July 2009, just as the civil helicopter market hit a steep downturn, and only eight had been delivered by late 2010. Bell, however, expects to have delivered around 75 by the end of this year.
The company’s commercial product line has shrunk in recent years and now comprises only the 206L4 and 407 light turbine singles, 429 and 412. Aftermarket upgrades, including re-engining, are in development for the 407 and 412.
In contrast, Bell’s military rotorcraft business is booming, with production of the V022 Osprey tiltrotor, UH-1Y utility and AH-1Z attack helicopters ramping up and continued upgrade work on the OH-58D armed scout helicopter.