FORT WORTH, Texas, 27 Jan. 2006. Bell Helicopter flew its unmanned Eagle Eye tilt-rotor surveillance aircraft for the first time Thursday, a major step for a program that the company hopes will lead to widespread sales.
The aircraft is a full-size developmental version of one the company is under contract to build for the Coast Guard. With the tilt-rotor technology Bell developed for the V-22 Osprey, the Eagle Eye will be capable of faster and longer flights than unmanned helicopter-type vehicles now being developed.
The aircraft that flew Thursday was developed and built entirely with Bell funding, Rudy said, after the Coast Guard program was delayed because of budget cuts.
The TR918 prototype made two flights totaling 18 minutes at the company's recently acquired test center located in the wide-open area west of Mineral Wells. "It exceeded all expectations," said Jon Rudy, Bell's vice president for unmanned aircraft business development.
At 8:54 a.m. (CST) the vehicle lifted vertically off the ground, hovered for nine minutes, executed various maneuvers to verify its movement and response capabilities, and then landed safely on the ground. The vehicle flew a second flight within 30 minutes of the maiden flight's landing.
This first flight of the TR918 comes on the heels of recently receiving a certificate of airworthiness for experimental flight-testing from the Federal Aviation Administration.
The aircraft is slated to make many more flights in the coming months as Bell engineers demonstrate and test its capabilities and performance. Rudy said the company plans to begin demonstrations to potential U.S. and foreign buyers in 2007 and 2008.
The Coast Guard has ordered 45 Eagle Eyes that will be based aboard its ships for long-range surveillance. Bell hopes to sell the aircraft for border patrol, military and civilian missions as well. It will pursue Federal Aviation Administration approval for civilian and government operators to fly the Eagle Eye for domestic use.
Rudy said development of the Eagle Eye is part of Bell's strategy to become the premier provider of unmanned vertical-takeoff-and-landing aircraft as well as conventional manned helicopters.
The UAS offers a "runwayless" solution for reconnaissance reporting in conditions too dangerous for human surveillance. With low manpower, space, and equipment requirements, the UAS increases battlefield flexibility without risking the lives of soldiers.
Flight testing for the Eagle Eye will continue with Bell XworX in Ft. Worth. For more information, see www.bellhelicopter.com.
Source: Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Texas