Churchill laughs and says after recovering from the shock he traveled to Texas where he signed a letter of intent to purchase the Bell Model 47 type certificate (TC). After six months of negotiations he became the owner of the Model 47 TC.
There are three type certificates for the different groups of models and with a smile Churchill goes on to explain he actually owns five TCs and 50 STCs altogether. The TCs are the three for the Model 47, the M74 Wasp from THC, and the Mark 5 & 6 Tomcat from Continental Copters. Both the Wasp and the Tomcat are single-place agricultural use aircraft derived from the Model 47 airframe.
I asked the question, “What do you get when you purchase the rights and TC for a 60-plus-year-old helicopter?” The answer was thousands of engineering drawings dating back to the 1940s, and a warehouse full of tooling, forgings, castings, templates, and more.
Supporting the industry
Churchill says the first priority is to support the industry with spare parts and great service, and feels if they successfully do this the industry will support them. Richard Jants, the quality assurance manager for SB47, says, “The Model 47 in total has approximately 3,500 parts. Granted many are standard parts and hardware, but now we are able to supply approximately 125 of these as PMA parts, and we are one of the only suppliers left for certain critical and life-limited parts. Our goal is to become the exclusive place for Model 47 operators worldwide to come to for spare parts.”
I was shown a new engine mount for the Lycoming powered Model 47 soon to be certified and available. Jants says, “The new engine mount is an upgrade over the original Bell and THC produced engine mounts.” There has been a history of cracking on these mounts in the past when subjected to repeated landings which is common in the aerial application operations. SB47 investigated the cracks and related design and process changes made over the years, and after agreement with the FAA on process changes, they are confident these new mounts will address the issue.
Also in the works is a new avionics system including an entirely new instrument panel. Jants says, “We are in final testing for a new instrument panel which we feel will serve Model 47 operators well. The new panel will be customizable for avionics options and designed to be both maintenance and pilot friendly.”
The new panel will replace the old electro-mechanical gauges with modern solid-state gauges with much improved quality and reliability. Regarding rotor blades, SB47 currently has no plans for new metal blade production because the old design offered no opportunities for cost reductions or increased life limits. But they are working on new composite blades which should be available next year. The use of composite materials enables SB47 to tailor the airfoil to produce a more efficient blade, and it is also expected to have a longer life limit, maybe as much as 10,000 hours.
SB47 has many other parts currently in the FAA approval cycle.
SB47 has a small dedicated staff. Included are draftsmen to convert all of the original Bell drawings to a digital format including 3-D modeling. Jants says, “We have a long way to go. So far we have approximately 10 percent of the original drawings converted.” As part of the TC purchase agreement Bell provides some level of technical engineering support to SB47 for a period of time.
As for engines, that’s a whole new discussion. Churchill explains, “Lycoming discontinued the vertical-mounted engine for the Model 47 after the military program ended decades ago. Over the years we’ve purchased loads of engines, engine parts, gearboxes, and rotorheads but eventually we need to face the engine issue. There is no longer tooling available for building these engine case halves.”
There are STCs available for a turbine engine upgrade to the Model 47, but Churchill is taking this a step or two further. SB47 recently entered into a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with Rolls-Royce to discuss opportunities for using the RR300 turbine engine in the SB47.
Chris Meyer has been appointed General Manager of SB47.
ATP is partnering with Scotts-Bell to provide single-source, digital, technical publications services for the Bell 47 helicopter.
Lycoming has received European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) type certification for the Lycoming IO-580-B1A engine.
The STC covers replacing the original IO-360 Lycoming engine in the Mooney M20E, M20F and M20J with a new or remanufactured IO-390-A3A6 engine.