April 13, 2018:
Belgian operator Helimo is awaiting delivery of a Bell 505 helicopter, which it expects to receive by the end of this month. Resplendent in the yellow of partner company and AOC holder Heli and Co, the aircraft was carefully selected by Helimo MD Michael Wilford, who has prior experience with the EC120 and AS350B3e Squirrel. He says: “I made the decision to go with the Bell because I was impressed with what the OEM was delivering on paper. I had some issues before with the EC120, especially on performance, so that's why I wanted to give this one a try.
“We were one of the launch customers, as we ordered it almost three years ago, so we benefitted from a nice entry price. We have to see if it will deliver in practice. I have good faith in the helicopter, and have had some pilot training on the type at the Bell Training Academy in Fort Worth. I now have flown six hours on it, and it has been nice so far.”
He says that the buying process has been smooth, and that he has appreciated the good communication with Bell through Part 145 maintenance centre Air Technology Belgium and the Bell representative in Belgium. “The 505 is based on the LongRanger, so a lot of parts on it are not exactly new, except for the airframe, which is an advantage,” he continues. “The Garmin 1000 has proven itself on the 407 in the past. The Arrius engine has been tried and tested on the EC120, but has had a nice upgrade with FADEC. It works very smoothly overall.
“I found the centre of gravity to be a little nose heavy in the beginning. But a solution has been found by putting some weights and ballasts in the tail. Nor is the endurance fantastic, at two hours 40 maximum, and the cargo compartment is a little small. So those are some things I'll have to face when it is here, but I don't see them as big issues. My goal with this aircraft is to perform mainly small local flights. We might do some aerial work, as we have been shown some very good performance figures using the cargo sling. Bell is saying that it will lift more than 800kg, so that is good for a helicopter of its size.”
In Wilford's opinion, there was not much to compete with the B505 in terms of price. “A new EC120 was out of the question, because it was just too expensive. You could have a very nice second hand AS350B3 for the same price as a new H120. That's why I wanted to go with the B505.
“I've never worked with Bell before, except for some old 206s in the past. We will still have to wait and see whether the practical side of things works out. Perhaps getting it on the AOC and having approval from the Belgian authorities might prove difficult, as new aircraft sometimes can, but I'm sure they will do their best to do it as soon as possible.”
Following a projected end of April delivery, the aircraft will be put to immediate use for type ratings. “It is quite amazing, but up to now in Europe Bell hasn't had a single place to do 505 type ratings,” Wilford explains. “I will be partnering with a Luxembourg ATO, Heli-Luxembourg, to do the rating. That will take up the first month, because there is a lot of demand from pilots.
It is a nice aircraft to convert from piston to turbine on, because it has the flight idle switch, which is amazing. Later on we will be carrying out commercial air transport and some photography flights, all of which will have quite a short duration.”