Civilian Tilt-Rotor Nears First Flight

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The Bell Agusta 609 -- a civilian tilt-rotor aircraft -- is one step closer to its first flight, perhaps this spring. Fort Worth-based Bell Helicopter Textron Inc., which shares the experimental aircraft with Italy's Agusta, is in the final weeks of system tests and is preparing for flight. "The basics are cooking together properly," Jack Gallagher, director of the BA609 program, told The Dallas Morning News. "We're looking at six to eight weeks, or about 50 hours of ground run testing where we do the final tweaks," he added. However, the program has experienced its set of delays, especially after the recent controversy of the V-22 -- the Agusta's military sibling, which has suffered multiple crashes and deaths in its pre-production history. This military version -- which is produced by Bell and Boeing Co. -- was grounded from December 2000 until last May. Officials allowed flight tests to resume last spring and are now moving ahead slowly but steadily on its development.