FT. WORTH-Bell Helicopter Textron is launching another first for the aviation industry, breaking ground yesterday on the world’s first commercial tiltrotor training center.

The 82,000-sf three-story structure is a multi-phased project being positioned on 15 acres adjacent to the Bell/Agusta Aerospace Co. headquarters at Ft. Worth Alliance Airport. Another 30,000 sf is planned for the future as the innovative tiltrotor program develops, GlobeSt.com has learned.

The center won’t be ready for its first class until late 2001. Projections call for 300 pilots per year to be certified to fly commercial tiltrotors for civilian use.

The first BA609 commercial tiltrotor isn’t expected to be ready to fly until August 2001, with its certification set for 2003. Components for the six-to-nine passenger aircraft are to be manufactured at various sites around the world, with assembly planned for Bell’s Tiltrotor Assembly Center in Amarillo and Agusta’s facilities in Cascina Costa, Italy. Four prototype aircraft are being built now at Bell’s manufacturing facilities in Ft. Worth and Arlington.

“This opens up a brand new era in aviation,” Terry D. Stinson, Bell Helicopter Textron chairman and CEO told the 100 guests attending the morning groundbreaking at Alliance.To date, Bell/Agusta has sold 80 tiltrotors, creating a three-year waiting list for the aircraft that looks like a plane but lifts, lands and hovers like a helicopter–but at twice the speed of conventional helicopters. Among those on the waiting list are Ross Perot Jr., whose Hillwood Properties is responsible for the Ft. Worth airport’s existence, golfer Greg Norman, Miami Dolphins owner Wayne Huizenga and companies scattered around the globe.

Talks have ensued with the US Marines to use the craft for training since it’s cheaper than the V-22 Osprey and the US Air Force has been checking it out for search and rescue missions. The BA609 will cruise at 275 knots and can go 750 nautical miles without refueling and up to 1,000 nautical miles with auxiliary fuel tanks.

“There is enormous worldwide interest in this unique aircraft which can take-off, hover and land like a helicopter and yet fly with the high speed and range of a fixed wing turboprop airplane,” says Stinson. “The possibilities are endless.” The craft is flexible enough that it is being considered as ideal for in-city use or offshore oil exploration.

The training center will feature two full-motion flight simulators, sophisticated cockpit procedures trainer and space for classrooms and individual training. It initially will employ 60 people.

Don W. Kirk designed the building, with Gideon & Toal of Ft. Worth serving as architect. Carter & Burgess Inc. holds the civil engineering contract and Summit Engineering the one for electrical and mechanical engineering. Bell/Agusta Aerospace Co. is a joint venture set up by Bell and Agusta SpA to develop and manufacture the BA609.

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