The History of Bell Helicopter: 1980 - 1989

Pilot Harrison Ford just after performing a test flight with the XV-15 tiltrotor.1980

  • Ron Erhart and Dorman Cannon, Bell XV-15 project pilots, receive the Fredrick L. Feinberg Award from the American Helicopter Society. The honor is presented for the most outstanding piloting achievement during the preceding year. The Society of Experimental Test Pilots also names them “test pilots of the year.”
  • The Bell XV-15 exceeds an unofficial world speed record for rotorcraft by achieving a true airspeed of 301 knots (346 mph). The flight was made at Bell Helicopter’s Flight Research Center at the Arlington, TX, airport.The Bell Helicopter portion of the Bell XV-15 flight test program is completed. The second aircraft is shipped to NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center for additional capabilities and proof-of concept flight tests. 
  • A seven-seat Bell 206L2 LongRanger II completes a 5,100-mile flight from Dallas, TX, to Bern, Switzerland. The historic flight, by a light helicopter, is piloted by Karl Wagner and Warner Roschlau from Germany.
  • Bell Helicopter announces development of the Texas Ranger, a multi-mission Bell 206L capable of rapid in-the-field conversion to anti-tank configuration.
  • A record 783 commercial helicopters are delivered by Bell Helicopter Textron. This is more than a 30 percent increase over 1979.
  • Roy Morgan establishes Air Methods, an air medical transport company, with the purchase of his first helicopter, a Bell 206L. The company becomes “Partner of Choice” for a hospital in Grand Junction, CO.

AH-1W "Whiskey Cobra"


  • Delivery of the 25,000th Bell helicopter, a Bell 222, is made to Omniflight Helicopters.
  • ERA Helicopters accepts the first Bell 412 at the Helicopter Association International (HAI) convention.
  • Bell Helicopter forms a new Customer Support and Services Division.
  • The U.S. Army’s Advanced Composite Airframe Program (ACAP) selects Bell Helicopter as a contractor.
  • Delivery takes place of the first Bell AH-1S modernized Cobra/TOW to the U.S. Army.
  • Bell Helicopter is named a co-recipient of the American Helicopter Society’s Grover P. Bell Award for outstanding tiltrotor technology in developing the Bell XV-15.
  • The Bell XV-15 makes its first international demonstration flight during the Paris Air Show.
  • John Williams and Morton Meng, Bell Helicopter pilots, help the U.S. win the World Helicopter Championship in Poland while flying a Bell 206L LongRanger II.
  • A contract is awarded for $56 million to convert 70 Bell AH-1Gs to AH-1S Modernized Cobras.
  • Major General Story Stevens becomes the first non-test pilot to fly the Bell XV-15. Stevens is commanding general of the U.S. Army Aviation Research & Development Command.
  • The Bell XV-15 completes its longest cross-country flight (1,600 miles) from NASA’s Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, CA, to the Arlington, TX, municipal airport.
  • U.S. Senator Barry Goldwater pilots the Bell XV-15 at Bell Helicopter’s Flight Research Center in Arlington, TX.
  • The first Bell 412 destined for the Middle East is accepted by the Kingdom of Bahrain’s Public Security Flying Wing.
  • Initial concepts begin for what is to become the Bell Boeing V-22, which is Bell Boeing’s answer to the joint-service vertical take-off landing experimental (JVX) program put forth by the Department of Defense. The JVX program calls for a self-deployable aircraft that fulfills missions for every branch of the armed forces, a first for the U.S.

Bell AH-1W SuperCobra


  • A $35 million U.S. Navy contract for 55 Bell TH-57 Advanced Instrument Trainers is awarded to Bell Helicopter.
  • The Bell 214ST receives FAA certification for visual flight rules (VFR) and instrumental flight rules (IFR) operations.
  • Bell Helicopter and Mitsui & Co. sign a contract to co-produce Bell AH-1S Modernized Cobras for the Ground Self Defense Forces of the Japanese Ministry of Defense.
  • A teaming agreement between Bell Helicopter and Boeing Vertol Co. to participate in the JVX program competition is announced.
  • Australian pilot Dick Smith departs from Bell Helicopter’s Hurst facility on August 5 in a Bell 206B-3 JetRanger III on the first leg of an attempt to make the first helicopter solo flight around the world. On August 19, he lands in the United Kingdom to complete the world’s first solo crossing of the Atlantic in a helicopter.
  • The Bell XV-15 tiltrotor research aircraft successfully completes three days of seaboard trials on the USS Tripoli assault carrier. Earlier, the aircraft had undergone Special Electronics Mission Aircraft (SEMA) evaluation at Fort Huachuca, AZ.
  • Bell Helicopter receives $113 million in contracts for sales to Jordan, Pakistan and Turkey.
  • A Bell 206L LongRanger II, dubbed the “Spirit of Texas,” makes the first around-the-world helicopter flight, piloted byRoss Perot, Jr. and Jay Coburn. The helicopter departs from Dallas, TX, on September 1 and returns 29 days, 3 hours and 8 minutes later.
  • The U.S. Army exercises an option for Bell Helicopter to manufacture and test three composite airframes in the second phase of its Army Career and Alumni Program (ACAP). The contract is valued at $21 million.
  • A licensing agreement is signed with the Nurtanio Indonesian Aircraft Industry to co-produce at least 100 Bell 412s.
  • The U.S. Navy accepts the first Bell TH-57 Advanced Instrument Trainer during formal ceremonies at Bell Helicopter in Hurst, TX.

Dick Smith interviewed after first solo flight around the world.1983

  • The development of the Bell 400 TwinRanger is announced at Helicopter Association International’s annual meeting.
  • The Naval Air Systems Command awards a contract to Bell Helicopter and Boeing Vertol Company for the preliminary design phase of the JVX program.
  • Harvey Gaylord, Bell Helicopter’s first president, passes away.
  • Australian adventurer Dick Smith becomes the first pilot to complete a solo helicopter flight around the world in a Bell 206B JetRanger II, flying 35,258 miles.
  • The Canadian Government selects Bell Helicopter to establish a helicopter industry in Canada. The Bell 400 TwinRanger is to be the first production aircraft of a new helicopter family.
  • The U.S. Army Helicopter Improvement Program (AHIP) prototype makes its first contractual flight and completes initial tests with a full-up mast-mounted sight (MMS).
  • Bell Helicopter – India is established, with headquarters in Singapore, to coordinate Southeast Asia operations.
  • Bell AH-1T+ SuperCobra makes its first flight at Bell Helicopter’s Flight Research Center in Arlington, TX.
  • Textron Inc. appoints James Atkins as Bell Helicopter Textron chairman. Leonard “Jack” Horner succeeds Atkins as president of Bell Helicopter.


  • A definitive contract is executed between Bell Helicopter Canada and the Canadian government to establish a helicopter industry in Canada.
  • Floyd Carlson, a Bell Helicopter pioneer test pilot whose aviation career spanned more than 40 years, passes away.
  • Bell Helicopter receives initial funding for 22 U.S. Marine Corps Bell AH-1Ts. The total amount of the contract is $105 million.
  • Development of the Bell 406 Combat Scout, a new light combat helicopter incorporating a four-blade rotor and a quick-change weapons system, is announced.
  • The Naval Air Systems Command awards the Bell Boeing team a $23.4 million contract addition for the second stage of the JVX program’s preliminary design effort.
  • Bell XV-15 tiltrotor aircraft completes a four-week, 3,500-mile demonstration and evaluation tour of the eastern U.S.
  • Donald Bloom, senior experimental test pilot, receives the Iven C. Kincheloe award as “Test Pilot of the Year” from the Society of Experimental Test Pilots.

Bell XV-15


  • The Bell OH-58D, being developed for the U.S. Army Helicopter Improvement Program (AHIP), exceeds or meets all performance and specification requirements during the development test program.
  • The Bell 412SP (Special Performance) is introduced during the Helicopter Association International convention. This is an improved version of the standard Bell 412.
  • Bell Helicopter receives a $49.1 million contract for 22 additional Bell AH-1T+s, now known as the Bell AH-1W SuperCobra.
  • Brazil orders 16 Bell 206B-3 JetRanger IIIs to upgrade the country’s naval pilot training capabilities.
  • JVX is now known as the Bell Boeing V-22 program. Bell Boeing begins full-scale development, without a formal contract, using in-house funding.
  • The People’s Republic of China orders six Bell 206B-3 JetRanger IIIs for pilot training by the Civil Aviation Administration of China.
  • Initial hover flight is achieved by the first of two Bell D292s being developed for the U.S. Army Career and Alumni Program (ACAP).
  • The U.S. Navy orders 36 additional Bell TH-57B primary trainers, raising the Navy’s Bell TH-57 inventory to 140.
  • Bell Helicopter receives a $223 million contract for additional AHIP production and support.
  • Honduras Air Force orders five Model 412SPs with an option to acquire five additional aircraft.


  • The U.S. Army Aviation Center, Ft. Rucker, AL, takes delivery of the first production Bell OH-58D Advanced Scout.
  • Delivery of the first production Bell AH-1W SuperCobra is made to the U.S. Marine Corps.
  • The Bell Boeing V-22 tiltrotor team wins a $1.714 billion fixed-price incentive award from the U.S. Navy for a seven-year, full-scale development program.
  • An armed version of the Bell 412SP is introduced.
  • The Naval Air Systems Command awards a new Bell Boeing V-22 contract following a year of program reassessment and negotiations. Six prototype aircraft are to be built under the full-scale development agreement.
  • A new agreement is signed with the government of Canada to restructure its aircraft production plans at Bell Helicopter’s Mirabel, Quebec, Canada, plant. Plans call for assembly of the Bell 206B JetRanger and Bell 206L LongRanger.
  • Bell Helicopter, Samsung Industries Co. Ltd., and the newly founded Korea Bell Helicopter Company Ltd. in Seoul, announce a memorandum of understanding to co-produce helicopters in the Republic of Korea.
  • Transfer of the Bell 206B JetRanger production line to the Mirabel facility is completed.
  • The U.S. Army awards an $89.2 million contract for spare parts to support the Bell UH-1, AH-1, and OH-58 fleets.
  • After the successful completion of its first contract for the production of 100 tailbooms destined for the Huey helicopter, Bell Helicopter selected a site in Mirabel, Quebec, Canada, to produce the 206B JetRanger. From then on, Bell Helicopter Textron Canada Limited (BHTCL) has been known as Bell’s commercial division.
  • Bell Helicopter Canada Ltd. makes the first delivery of a Bell 206B JetRanger III assembled at Mirabel to Turbo West of Broomfield, CO.
  • The U.S. Department of Defense approves a full-scale Bell Boeing V-22 development program.

Bell 412SP

Canadian Griffon CH-1461987

  • The first wing structure is completed for the Bell Boeing V-22. The structure will be used on the ground test article.
  • Acceptance of the Royal Norwegian Air Force’s first Bell 412SP occurs. The program calls for 18 aircraft to be co-assembled by Helikopter Services in Norway.
  • The second-generation 680 rotor, being flight tested on a Bell 222, meets or exceeds design goals set by the Light Helicopter Experimental (LHX) team of Bell Helicopter and McDonnell Douglas.
  • Bell Helicopter and Boeing announce the development of the “Pointer,” the world’s first tiltrotor unmanned air vehicle (UAV).
  • Twelve Bell OH-58Ds are loaded aboard a C-5A at Bell Helicopter’s Amarillo, TX, facility, representing the first delivery of Advanced Scouts to units of the U.S. Army.
  • Quick action by two Bell UH-1Hs, operated by the 50th Medical Company (Air Ambulance Unit) at Fort Sam Houston, TX, saves 33 lives during the Guadalupe River flood.
  • A full-scale Army Career and Alumni Program (ACAP) airframe crash test demonstrates that the all-composite airframe is capable of meeting stringent military crash survivability requirements.
  • The V-22 tiltrotor demonstrations and tests prove the viability of the platform in the Washington, D.C., and Chicago areas.
  • E. H. Industries of Canada is selected to replace the Canadian Navy’s older CH-124 Sea King with the new EH101. Bell Helicopter Textron Canada Ltd. will be responsible for the assembly and flight-testing of the aircraft.
  • Bell Helicopter Services, a subsidiary of Textron Inc., purchases the holdings of Inchcape Aviation Corporation, to assume total ownership of Bell Helicopter – India.


  • The first Boeing-built fuselage arrives at Bell Helicopter’s Flight Research Center to be joined to the first Bell-produced, flight-worthy Bell Boeing V-22 wing.
  • Drive system testing of the Bell Boeing Pointer, the world’s first UAV tiltrotor, is completed at the Hurst, TX, facility.
  • Commercial production of the Bell 206B JetRanger reaches 4,000.
  • Eleven armed Bell OH-58Ds are modified to light attack helicopters in response to a request by the U.S. Army.
  • The 100th Bell OH-58D AHIP is delivered to the U.S. Army at the Amarillo, TX, facility.
  • The Bell Boeing V-22 is unveiled during a rollout ceremony at Bell Helicopter’s Flight Research Center.
  • Bell Helicopter receives a $146 million U.S. Marine Corps contract for 30 Bell AH-1Ws.
  • A $22 million contract is received from Saudi Arabia covering long lead-time items for 15 Bell 406 Combat Scouts.
  • Bell Helicopter Canada Ltd. delivers the 100th helicopter built in Mirabel.
  • The Bell Boeing Pointer makes its first flight at Bell Helicopter’s Globe plant and facility in Saginaw, TX.
  • The Bell Boeing V-22 enters the critical ground test phase in preparation of first flight.

U.S. President Ronald Reagan exist the Bell 222


  • Bell Helicopter flies its 680 all-composite, four-blade, bearing-less rotor system for the first time on a Bell AH-1W.
  • The 1988 U.S. Army Aviation Materiel Readiness Award is presented to Bell Helicopter for employees’ efforts to arm the Bell OH-58D for operations in the Persian Gulf.
  • The Bell Boeing V-22 makes its first flight at Bell Helicopter’s Arlington, TX, Flight Test Facility. The crew consists of pilot Dorman Cannon and co-pilot Dick Balzer.
  • Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney submits the 1990 defense budget that includes termination of the Bell Boeing V-22 program.
  • The U.S. Marine Corps’ Bell AH-1W fleet of 46 aircraft reaches a 25,000 flight-hour milestone. The first Bell AH-1W was delivered during March of 1986.
  • Using Bell OH-58Cs, the U.S. Army Precision Helicopter Team wins the World Helicopter Championship in Chantilly, France.
  • The Bell Boeing V-22 achieves its most significant milestone, accomplishing a full conversion from helicopter mode to airplane mode while in flight.
  • An airspeed of 250 knots is achieved by the Bell Boeing V-22.
  • Due to the success of the Bell Boeing V-22 flight test program, the U.S. Congress approves $255 million in research and development to fund the program.
  • The U.S. Defense Investigation Services names Bell Helicopter as a recipient of the 1989 Cogswell Award for security excellence.

Bell Boeing V-22 First Flight