Civilian Tiltrotor Tests Begin

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As the Pentagon ponders whether the tilt rotor V-22 Osprey is too costly (or yet too dangerous) for the U.S. Marines and elite soldiers, Bell Helicopter has begun ground-testing a civilian version of the half helicopter/half airplane. The Bell/Agusta 609 would carry six to nine passengers and, like the troubled Osprey, use large propellers on the ends of tilting turbines to land and take off vertically and fly somewhat like a regular turboprop twin. Bell/Agusta is predicting a 275-knot cruise speed for 1,000 n.m. with long-range tanks. No price projections were offered in the Bell news release. The V-22 program has been plagued by safety problems and cost overruns and some have suggested it might be on the Pentagon chopping block. Bell says the ground-testing will last up to 50 hours, but it's not saying when the first flight might be. The company is hoping for certification by 2007 and already has 70 orders. Production aircraft will be built in Texas and Italy.